BEIT JAMAL MONASTERY, ISRAEL - Vandals have torn down concrete crosses marking dozens of graves at a Christian cemetery in central Israel, a church official said on Thursday.
Father Antonio Scodo, responsible for the upkeep of the Saint Stephen's Church graveyard, within the Beit Jamal monastery, said the damage was spotted by nuns at an adjoining convent on Wednesday.
"But the deeds surely go back further," he told AFP.
He said that the abuse of 26 gravesites was an act of desecration rather than random vandalism.
"They wanted to smash, to pull down, a symbol of the Christians, the cross."
"Many, many Israelis come here and are happy, they come with their families because they know there is a beautiful and peaceful place," he said.
"So we don't know why they [the attackers] are against these symbols of our religion — the cross."
Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that the attack may have been carried out "several weeks" ago.
He said that an investigation had been opened but police so far had no suspects.
It was not the first such act at the Roman Catholic monastery, near the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem.
Crosses in the Beit Jamal graveyard were damaged in 2016 and in 1981. The church itself was targeted last year.
"We are the object of much hatred," Scodo said. "And we don't bother anybody here, we are here for more than 100 years."
Nearby Beit Shemesh is home to a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews who have in the past clashed with less observant Jewish residents.
Israel's foreign ministry called the latest incident "despicable".
"We strongly and unequivocally condemn this act of hatred against the Christian community," spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted.
"Israel is committed to combat any form of hatred and intolerance against all religions."
Wadie Abunassar, an advisor to the Catholic Church in the Holy Land said Israel's record in catching past perpetrators did not inspire confidence.
They "failed to bring anybody to justice for these acts, and we wonder if that will again be the case this time," he wrote in a statement.