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Last Updated: Monday, 10 May, 2004, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
War graves hit over Iraq 'abuse'
photo on tombstone
Anger has flared at photos of Iraqi captives allegedly being abused
Vandals have attacked more than 30 Commonwealth war graves in Gaza City in an apparent act of retaliation for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq.

Some 33 graves were desecrated or destroyed in the cemetery for troops from the two world wars.

Photographs of US and British soldiers allegedly abusing Iraqi prisoners were hung from some of the tombstones.

The British Consulate General in Jerusalem said it was investigating the incident.

Flowers were uprooted and the message "We will take revenge" was written across one tombstone.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which runs the graveyard, said the attack had been carried out by about 10 men, three of them armed with rifles, who arrived there at about 1500 BST on Sunday.

Shock, disgust and anger are the emotions that spring to mind
Peter Francis, Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Commission spokesman Peter Francis said the cemetery's Palestinian head gardener, Issam Jaradeh, and his father, Ibrahim, did all they could to stop them but they went ahead and attacked 33 tombstones.

Mr Jaradeh said the vandals claimed they were carrying out the destruction as an act of retribution for the alleged mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq by the US-led coalition.

But he deplored their actions, saying: "Our religion as Muslims and our tradition as Palestinians forbid such acts."
Gaza City Commonwealth war cemetery
Soldiers killed in both world wars are remembered at the Gaza City cemetery

Mr Francis said: "Shock, disgust and anger are the emotions that spring to mind, tinged with relief that Mr Jaradeh and his father were unharmed.

"The gravestones we can replace but we cannot replace them."

Mr Francis said vandalism against the graveyard was a "totally inappropriate" political gesture against a non-political organisation whose purpose was humanitarian and historical.

"It must be extremely distressing for the relatives of those commemorated in the cemetery and we would like to reassure them that we will do everything possible to replace the tombstones as soon as possible," he added.

Almost 4,000 soldiers, most of them of Commonwealth soldiers of various nationalities killed in the two world wars, are buried in the plot in Gaza City.

Our religion as Muslims and our tradition as Palestinians forbid such acts
Cemetery head gardener Issam Jaradeh
A Foreign Office spokeswoman condemned the attack, saying: "We are aware of reports suggesting a link between this and what is happening in Iraq but as far as we are concerned it doesn't excuse what's happened in Gaza.

"There's no justification for what has happened to these graves."

A Palestinian security source strongly condemned the desecration and promised "the necessary measures" against those responsible.

Reports of abuse in US-led prisons in Iraq have reverberated throughout the Arab world, including the Palestinian Territories, further fuelling the anti-Western sentiment already surrounding the US-led invasion of Iraq.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Orla Guerin
"The attack was a work of few but rage is shared by many"



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