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Anti-Arab Vandalism Mars Jewish High Holy Day

Israelis and Palestinians protest after two cemeteries, one Muslim and the other Christian, were vandalized by graffiti in the mixed Arab Jewish neighborhood of Jaffa, Israel, October 8, 2011.

Israel is seeking to calm ethnic tensions after anti-Arab vandalism marred the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur on Saturday.

Israeli leaders have sharply condemned the desecration of two dozen Muslim and Christian graves on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

At least five gravestones were smashed and 20 others sprayed with Hebrew graffiti, including "Death to the Arabs" and "Price Tag," a slogan used by militant Jewish settlers in the West Bank and their supporters. The vandalism took place in Jaffa, a mixed port city of Jews and Arabs near Tel Aviv.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said vandalism is intolerable, especially when it targets religious sensitivities.

"Israel is a tolerant state that is committed to religious freedom and peaceful coexistence," he said.

Netanyahu vowed that the security forces would catch the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

The vandalism sparked outrage in Jaffa, where a firebomb was thrown at a synagogue.

Dozens of Arabs and Jews took to the streets in a joint demonstration.

"The people of Yaffa [Jaffa] will not let this happen, will not sit down and see that group of fascists come in to our community, come in to our neighborhood and destroy and vandalize our graveyards," said Israeli Arab Abed Abu Shkhadeh, an activist in the Jaffa Youth Movement.

The grave desecration is the latest in a wave of vandalism blamed on Orthodox Jewish militants, including the torching of several mosques in the occupied West Bank. The vandalism spread to Israel a week ago, when a mosque was torched in an Israeli Arab village.

Police have apprehended a suspect in last week's mosque attack inside Israel, a Jewish seminary student with ties to militant West Bank settlers. At the same time, there have been no arrests in connection with the vandalism in the West Bank.

Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups accuse Israel of a double standard: cracking down on anti-Arab vandalism inside Israel while turning a blind eye to similar incidents in the occupied territories.

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