Saturday, August 07, 2004

Vandals desecrate Jewish cemetery in New Zealand

I am ashamed to be a Kiwi

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - A Jewish cemetery in New Zealand has been vandalized, a day after the country imposed diplomatic sanctions on Israel for the activities of two alleged Mossad agents.

At least 16 historic Jewish grave headstones were smashed at a cemetery in Wellington and a Nazi swastika was cut into the lawn.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said she did not know if the incident was linked to the diplomatic row between the two countries.

Clark suspended high-level diplomatic contacts with Israel on Thursday after two Israeli men were sentenced to six months in prison for trying to obtain New Zealand passports illegally.

Israel's Foreign Ministry announced it regretted the state of relations between the two countries and pledged to do what it could to restore ties.

But Clark said she is waiting for a formal apology and explanation.

"They said they were very sorry about the decision we have taken, which of course falls somewhat short from saying that you're sorry for what you did."

Uriel Zosha Kelman and Eli Cara pleaded guilty to attempting to procure New Zealand passports illegally and working with organized criminal gangs. But they denied they belong to Mossad, Israel's secret service.

Clark has said there was no doubt the two were Israeli agents and what they did were not simple criminal activities.

Clark said the case "seriously strained relations" between Israel and New Zealand, and she's cancelled foreign ministry talks scheduled for this year.

New Zealand was also planning to refuse any request by Israeli President Moshe Katsav to stop off in the country when he visits Australia next month.