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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 12:14 GMT

World: Middle East

Napoleonic soldiers laid to rest

The soldiers were honoured by French Foreign Legion veterans

Four Napoleonic soldiers have finally received a proper burial 200 years after they were killed during the Emperor's unsuccessful campaign in Palestine.

Veterans of the French Foreign Legion honoured the memory of four unknown soldiers in a ceremony in the ancient town of Acre, in north-west Israel.

The four soldiers are believed to have died and then been buried where they lay in shallow trenches while laying siege to an Ottoman fortress in Acre in 1799.

Archaeologist excavated the bodies in 1991 after builders digging foundations for a new courthouse in the town came across the remains.

[ image: The soldiers probably died during Napoleon's failed seige of Acre]
The soldiers probably died during Napoleon's failed seige of Acre
A historical expert said the soldiers were identified as Napoleonic troops by their gold tunic buttons inscribed with the words 'Republique de Francaise'.

One body was missing its head, matching historical accounts that Turkish troops beheaded French soldiers and displayed their heads on the walls of the town to demoralise their enemy.

Diplomats attending the ceremony said they were pleased the soldiers were finally getting a decent burial - the remains had been held in storage in an Israeli museum while France and Israel argued over where they should be buried.

French Ambassador to Israel, Jean-Noel De Bouillane De Lacoste said the men deserved to be buried alongside 10 other soldiers in a tiny Napoleon-era grave that also holds the body of the man who commanded the failed siege of 1799.

The ambassador said the burial raised mixed emotions:

"A feeling of remembrance ... because these people were French men, they had come such a long way, leaving friends for years.

"We do not know what state of mind that were in, but certainly they felt a little lost so far from their shores and we will pay homage to them and their courage."

Historians say the defeat at Acre thwarted Napoleon's plans to conquer Turkey before marching east to capture India and the British Empire.

Instead, the French forces retreated from the Holy Land to Egypt where, threatened by the British Army, they eventually abandoned the Middle East for their homeland.

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