TEL AVIV: Suspected Jewish extremists scrawled anti-Arab graffiti on the headstones in an ancient Muslim cemetery in occupied west Jerusalem, police and witnesses told reporters on Thursday.
“The words ‘price tag’ and Stars of David were scrawled on around a dozen tombs in the Muslim cemetery in Mamilla in occupied central Jerusalem,” a police spokeswoman told reporters, saying an inquiry had been opened. Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the phrase “price tag” was sprayed in Hebrew over the graves early on Thursday.
Price tag is a euphemism for hate crimes carried out by Israeli extremists which generally target Palestinians or Arabs and their property.
Such incidents often take place in retaliation for Israeli government moves to dismantle unauthorised settler outposts, with Thursday’s vandalism apparently linked to the removal of six caravans from the Maale Rehavam outpost in the southern West Bank a day earlier.
The move sparked angry protests by settlers and their supporters in and around Jerusalem.
There have been several attacks on Mamilla graveyard, known in Arabic as Ma’man Allah cemetery, which dates from the 12th century and is the resting place of several Sufi saints.
Descendants of those interred in the west Jerusalem cemetery say it also houses the remains of soldiers and officials of legendary Muslim ruler Saladin.
The centuries-old cemetery in occupied central Jerusalem is near the site of a planned museum of tolerance.
The project by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a US-based Jewish group, has drawn fire from Palestinians who say it desecrates graves.
Meanwhile, in Israel, recriminations grew on Thursday as more details emerged about the mysterious life and death of a prisoner held in top-secret who was believed to be an Australian-Israeli spying for Mossad.
As Israel finally admitted it had held a man with dual nationality in solitary confinement on security grounds who later committed suicide, a lawyer who met with him just days earlier said there was no indication the prisoner was planning to take his own life.
Prisoner X, who was identified by Australian media as Mossad agent Ben Zygier, is now known to have died in December 2010 while being held in Ayalon prison in Ramle near Tel Aviv in a case which Israel went to extreme lengths to cover up.
But given that key details of the case including the reason for his arrest and the circumstances of his apparent suicide are covered by a strict gag order, the answers may remain elusive.
“When I saw him, there was nothing to indicate he was going to commit suicide,” said human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman who met Zygier days before he was found hanged in his cell, which was under 24-hour surveillance.
Speaking to army radio, Feldman said he had met Zygier to offer him advice ahead of his trial as talks were under way over a plea bargain.
“He appeared rational, focused, he spoke clearly about the issue and didn’t exude any sense of self-pity,” Feldman said, expressing surprise that a prisoner who was being held in “a cell which was being monitored and checked 24-hours a day, could manage to commit suicide by hanging himself.”