Israeli soldiers blew up a bomb hidden by militants in a Muslim cemetery in Bethlehem yesterday, prompting an outcry by Palestinians who said the graveyard had been desecrated.
Israel said the militants were to blame for the damage when troops detonated the bomb concealed in an empty grave.
The location is especially sensitive as it is near Rachel’s Tomb, a flashpoint West Bank shrine that is Judaism’s holiest site.
“We didn’t desecrate a cemetery. We neutralised a bomb,” said army spokesman Jacob Dallal.
But the explosion also destroyed the nearby grave of a 60-year-old Palestinian and rankled the nerves of local people who said the soldiers had violated the sanctity of Bethlehem’s only Muslim cemetery.
The head of Bethlehem’s Islamic Waqf, which oversees the cemetery, said even the presence of a bomb would not justify the army’s actions.