RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 24 (Ali Sawafta, Reuters) - Vandals desecrated some 70 graves in two Palestinian Christian cemeteries on Sunday in what a Palestinian Authority official said was a rare attack on the Christian minority in the occupied West Bank.
A church official in the village of Jiffna near Ramallah where the attack took place called in Palestinian security officials to investigate, but neither he nor the investigators said they had any initial clues who was responsible.
This unfortunate incident has broughtMuslims and Christians closer and many from the Muslim community have shown solidarity with us and have condemned this action, said Greek Orthodox Church official George Abdo.
He said grave stones had been smashed and metal and stone crosses knocked off graves in the attack, which was discovered on Sunday. The head and a hand of a statue of the Madonna adorning one of the graves were also broken off.
Abdo said it was the first time such an incident had occurred in the village.
Issa Kassissieh, a Palestinian Authority official and adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas on Christian affairs, said he believed it was an isolated act against Christian symbols.
Palestinian Christians and Muslims have always lived in harmony in the Holy Land, Kassissieh said.
Jiffna, northeast of Ramallah, is home to some 1,600 inhabitants, about two thirds of whom are Christians from the Greek Orthodox and Catholic communities.
The Palestinian Authority says 50,000 of the West Bank's 2.5 million Arab population are Christians.
Though statistics are unclear, officials say many Christians have emigrated in recent decades. Most cite economic hardships under Israeli occupation, though some also voice fears of less tolerant forms of Islam growing among Palestinians, who in 2006 gave a parliamentary majority to the Islamist movement Hamas.
During a visit this month Pope Benedict tried to soothe Muslim anger over past remarks on Islam and urged Palestinian Christians not to follow others in emigrating abroad. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Jihan Abdalla in Jerusalem, writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Alastair Macdonald)