Vandalism in two Arab cemeteries in Jaffa was discovered on Friday afternoon by local residents, the latest in a series of nationalist "price tag" actions, and a Molotov cocktail was hurled at a nearby synagogue last night. No injuries were reported.
Unknown perpetrators spray-painted graffiti on about 25 headstones in one Muslim and one Christian graveyard in the city, including "Death to the Arabs" and "price tag," the latter an apparent reference to the campaign by extremists in the settlement movement.
Other derogatory slogans, however, targeted the Maccabi Haifa sports club and Russians.
This was the second incident of vandalism against Arab targets within Israel with a "price tag" connection, after a mosque in the Galilee Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangaria was set on fire last Sunday night. The entire interior of the mosque was scorched, causing heavy damage, and holy books inside the mosque were burned. "Price tag" was painted on the wall of the mosque.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the roof of the Rabbi Meir Ba'al Hanes synagogue in Jaffa. The building was empty at the time and there were no reports of injuries.
This happened as about 200 Arab and Jewish Jaffa residents rallied to protest the desecration of the cemeteries and call for an end to violence and racism.
Calls in Israel's Arab community for immediate international intervention to protect Muslim and Christian holy sites within Israel have been growing over the past week, in the wake of the two incidents.
Last week, one human rights organization expressed concerns over a possible escalation of similar incidents to diplomats from the United States and the European Union.
A number of human rights groups issued a statement after the cemetery desecration calling on law enforcement authorities to apprehend the perpetrators.
President Shimon Peres last night condemned the defacement of the cemeteries, calling it "a despicable, criminal act that disrespects us and contradicts the moral values of Israeli society."
In a statement released by the President's Office, Peres called on law enforcement officials to do "their utmost" to catch the criminals and bring them to swift justice.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai also condemned the desecration of the graves, saying "It is particularly sad that precisely on Yom Kippur there are extremists trying to damage the delicate fabric of coexistence in Tel Aviv-Jaffa," Huldai said. "I hope the police catch the criminals and prosecute them."
Sheikh Saliman Setel, head of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement for Jaffa, said the city's Arab residents will convene on Sunday to discuss how to respond to the vandalism.
"There is a very bad feeling. If someone hurts your faith, how would you feel?" he said. "All of us, all of Jaffa's Arab residents, Muslim and Christian, denounce this act. The police must know who who did this. It isn't the first time something like this has happened. Sometimes stones are thrown at mosques, sometimes people go into graveyards and do damage," he said.
The president of the Islamic Movement in Jaffa, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Ajwa, said, "This is an attempt by extremists to incite the Arab masses," and called for calm.
MK Ibrahim Sarsur, United Arab List-Ta'al party leader, called on the perpetrators to stop their racist attacks.
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