Seventeen Jewish graves have been destroyed and vandalised in an organised attack inside a Belfast cemetery.
Up to eight youths, some using hammers, attacked the graves in west Belfast on Friday evening, according to a member of the Northern Ireland assembly.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has confirmed it is investigating the incident as a hate crime. The graves, some of which date back to the 1870s, are in a walled-off section of Belfast city cemetery between the Whiterock and Falls roads.
Chief Inspector Norman Haslett of the PSNI said the attack was “a particularly sickening incident, which we are treating as a hate crime”. He added: “To disturb the sanctity of a cemetery in this way is completely unacceptable and I can assure the public that we will conduct a robust investigation.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews vice-president Marie van der Zyl expressed her “outrage,” saying: “In addition to damage to gravestones there were several attempts to enter the graves themselves.
“The Board stands with the Belfast Jewish community in the face of such a revolting act of vandalism and disrespect which will cause much distress to families affected as well as to the wider community.
“We support the community’s efforts that Belfast City Council restore and secure the cemetery. We hope that those responsible are arrested swiftly and face the full consequences of their actions.”
Eight young people are said to have carried out the attack with hammers and blocks, with a larger crowd looking on, according to Northern Ireland Assembly member William Humphrey, Belfast Live reported.
Humphrey said he was “disgusted and appalled” at the vandalism, which the police is treating as a hate crime.