(JTA) — More than 68 gravestones were found ransacked and graves were looted at a Jewish cemetery in the coastal Tunisian town of Sousse.
The Tunisian Shems FM radio station cited a Tunisian security official who said the graves were damaged over the last month. Claims on Facebook had said the graves were vandalized on Jan. 23.
According to the Shems FM report, Tunisian youths believing rumors that the Jews bury their dead with gold were responsible for the grave looting.
Only a few Jewish families now live in Sousse, which had a Jewish community of nearly 6,000 at the time of Tunisia’s independence in 1956. One Jewish-owned fruit juice shop, Pascal, is located in the city.
According to TAP, the Tunisian state news agency, the office of Prime Minister Hammadi Jebali of the Islamist Ennahda party released a statement last Friday expressing "deep indignation at any criminal act undermining Tunisia’s cultural and historical heritage," and said that efforts were under way to work with security forces and the judiciary to ensure that attacks on cemeteries and mausoleums stopped.
The Tunisian Ministry of Culture recently announced that 34 shrines of venerated Sufi Muslim saints have been attacked by religious extremists since the country’s January 2011 revolution ousted former dictator Zine El Abddine Ben Ali.
Tunisia had a Jewish population of more than 100,000 at the time of independence in 1956, comprising the country’s largest religious minority. Today nearly 2,000 remain, living mostly on the southern island of Djerba and around the capital, Tunis.