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Jewish cemetery in Kosovo capital desecrated

Swastikas sprayed on top of tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in the capital Pristina, Kosovo , seen Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. The attack is believed to have taken place on Tuesday and has been criticized by local leaders. Police have launched an investigation into the act of vandalism Swastikas sprayed on top of tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in the capital Pristina, Kosovo , seen Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. The attack is believed to have taken place on Tuesday and has been criticized by local leaders. Police have launched an investigation into the act of vandalism (AP Photo / Visar Kryeziu)
By Nebi Qena
Associated Press / December 1, 2011
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PRISTINA, Kosovo—Police in Kosovo are investigating who sprayed swastikas on dozens of tombstones in a Jewish cemetery recently restored by American and Kosovan students, a spokesman said Thursday.

Brahim Sadrija said police had sealed off the cemetery in the capital, Kosovo, and are looking for clues. The vandalism is believed to have happened Tuesday.

Sadrija said he could not disclose more details pending the ongoing investigation.

In June, a group of students from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and their peers from the American University in Kosovo restored the neglected cemetery by clearing debris from around the graves and cutting overgrown grass.

Rabbi Edward S. Boraz of the college's Roth Center for Jewish Life held a dedication ceremony at the memorial site, with students taking turns to read out the names of Jewish families from the region who perished during World War II.

On Thursday the hate graffiti "Jud Raus" -- a misspelling of the German "Juden Raus," which means "Jews out" -- could still be seen at the foot of a memorial.

President Atifete Jahjaga and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci condemned the act.

"The damaging of cemeteries presents an act in complete contradiction with the traditions and values of the people of Kosovo, based on tolerance and full respect for all the dead and all the monuments," Jahjaga said in a statement.

Thaci described the desecration as "a cowardly act."

The condemnations follow that of U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Christopher Dell, who urged authorities to find out who committed the vandalism.

"The hateful act was an offense not only against the families of persons buried there and of the Jewish community in Kosovo and beyond, but also an offense against Kosovo's multiethnic state and society," Dell said in a statement.

"The act is one of contempt for the most basic norms of tolerance, coexistence, and respect, and cannot be tolerated."

Some 300 Kosovo Jews died at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany during World War II. After the war, Kosovo's small Jewish community dwindled. The few that remained left for Israel and Serbia during and after the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

In a statement sent to The Associated Press an American Jewish group branded the desecration of the cemetery as "a heinous act."

"Holocaust survivors are shocked to learn that a sacred resting place of our martyrs has been profaned by vandals using graphic symbols of Nazi hate," Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants said.

Kosovo, a former Serbian province, seceded from Serbia in 2008 but Belgrade has vowed never to accept the independence of the majority ethnic Albanian territory.

Kosovo is overwhelmingly Muslim, but has a Roman Catholic minority.

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