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Vandals Desecrate Begin’s Grave in Midst of Haredi Riots over Digs

Amid controversy over archaeological excavations at an ancient burial site in Jerusalem, vandals have desecrated the grave of Menachem Begin on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Police found a black swastika daubed on the gravestone of the late prime minister after an anonymous caller contacted Israel Radio to say the act was in retaliation for the desecration of burial caves dating to the period of the Second Temple in the French Hill section of the city.

Tensions between government archaeologists and the haredi, or fervently religious, community were further widened following a ruling by the chief rabbis that bones found in the burial caves be reburied together with their coffins.

Archaeologists are seeking to retain, at the Rockefeller Museum in eastern Jerusalem, sarcophagi found in the caves north of Mount Scopus. The bones would be reinterred separately.

Police used force Tuesday to disperse demonstrators Tuesday in the haredi neighborhood of Mea Shearim who are protesting an archaeological dig at a burial site.

Archaeologists are carrying out a dig at the site in an effort to rescue artifacts before work starts on a new road.

The controversy underlines clashing perspectives of the religious and secular communities and has spilled over into the political sphere.

A haredi Cabinet minister, Interior Minister Arye Deri of the Shas party, called on the police to use “a light hand” in dealing with the protesters.

Retorting, the police minister, Moshe Shahal of the Labor Party said police had exercised great restraint in dispersing the demonstration in Mea Shearim at which 15 people were detained.

At the other end of the spectrum, a leader of the left-wing Meretz bloc, Energy Minister Amnon Rubinstein, urged Shahal to adopt a firm policy toward the demonstrators and not to yield to religious pressure.

Both Shas and Meretz are partners in the Labor-led government coalition.

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