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Vandals defaced a late Ottoman-era archaeological site in Jaffa overnight Sunday that authorities had begun excavating earlier this month.

Yoav Arbel, the archaeologist heading the dig, said that underneath 19th-century structures such as buildings and a city wall, he expects to find relics from earlier periods such as the Crusader era or even the Iron Age.

"The site was significantly damaged. Several of the old stone walls were pushed over and are simply destroyed. The cobblestone road was damaged and water pipes were also defaced," he said. "Considerable damage was done, but the site has not been destroyed completely."

In addition to defacing historical structures, the perpetrators also damaged the archaeologists' equipment. "Our nets were torn and fences were ripped down," Arbel said. "They also created safety hazards, cutting electrical wires and taking down a fence that protected passersby from falling into the wells." He said the hazards had since been fixed and the equipment repaired.

The Israel Antiquities Authority filed a complaint with the police yesterday, but no suspects have yet been detained.

The security company contracted to provide round-the-clock security to the site has also been replaced, Arbel said.

Tomb controversy reignites

Also yesterday, some 200 ultra-Orthodox protesters demonstrated against archaeological work being conducted in the Jaffa neighborhood of Andromeda Hill, claiming that the site contains Jewish graves.

Police closed off traffic in the area and diverted protesters to a nearby public park.

Arbel noted that his nearby archaeological site on the city's Ruslan Street contains no tombs.

Earlier this year, ultra-Orthodox protesters staged a number of demonstrations at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center over concerns that planned renovations would disrupt graves they believed were located there.