Police mum on grave desecration probe

Police still have no suspects in the grave vandalism incident at a Palestinian cemetery near Ariel.

vandalized muslim graves (photo credit: International Women's Peace Service)
vandalized muslim graves
(photo credit: International Women's Peace Service)
The investigation into the grave vandalism at a Palestinian cemetery near Ariel was under way, Judea and Samaria police said Monday, but police still have no suspects in the incident. An officer in the Samaria and Judea police said the investigation into the Friday vandalism had been given "preferential status" within the district, but emphasized that the investigation was still in the early stages. No arrests were likely in the near future, he said. At the National Headquarters, one officer emphasized that the case was being investigated at the district level, without headquarters intervention. He added, though, that investigators were taking their time to build a solid evidentiary basis. "It's better for us to build a strong case and make arrests two-and-a-half weeks later rather than to arrest someone four days after the incident, and then be forced to release him later," he said. He added that the intelligence picture in such cases was frequently complex, and careful attention would need to be paid to both trace evidence as well as intelligence profiling. District police would not comment on any progress made in the investigation, merely reemphasizing instead the general importance attributed to the case. The village filed the official complaint about the incident Sunday with Israeli police in Ariel. A total of 1,300 Jewish worshipers attended the pilgrimage overnight Thursday after receiving special permission from the IDF to enter the Palestinian village of Kifl Harith to pray at the grave of biblical hero Joshua (Yehoshua Bin-Nun. During the pilgrimage, eight graves were broken and one of the broken ones and one additional grave were defaced with graffiti reading "death to Arabs" and "revenge." Yisrael Edri, spokesman for the pilgrims' group, criticized the desecration, adding that members of his group had seen some suspicious people in the cemetery but were unable to catch them. They could have been settlers who sneaked in with the group, or even Palestinians, Edri said. Kifl Harith Mayor Ahmed Bouzia called for the end of pilgrimages by Jewish groups to a holy site in his village in light of the grave desecration. There have been three large pilgrimages to the site since February, Bouzia said, but smaller groups of armed settlers come more frequently. He said that village feelings were further ruffled when IDF soldiers returned early Sunday morning with pilgrimage organizers to fix the damaged graves and paint over graffiti. "This was desecration on top of desecration," Bouzia said, adding that Muslim graves could be repaired only by Muslims. The village leaders are planning to consult with Islamic authorities on how to restore the graves. Bouzia warned that his villagers would confront future pilgrimages, and that this could cause "serious friction between the residents and the settlers." AP contributed to this report.