Israel agrees to graves pay-out

By Leon Symons, April 18, 2008

Israel has finally agreed to pay for the restoration of a British war-graves cemetery in Gaza City, damaged when it launched an operation after the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006.

A memorial stone, perimeter wall, trees and a number of headstones were damaged in that operation and in a second incident a week later.

Britain issued a formal complaint after the Israelis ignored a letter from its embassy in Tel Aviv. After initially denying responsibility for the damage for months, Israel has now agreed to pay NIS 145,000 (£20,600).

David Parker, director of information at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: “We were very pleased that the Israeli government was prepared to pay compensation for the damage to the cemetery.

“We were also grateful for support from the British government, its embassy and other governments in pressing the claim.”

A total of 3,686 Commonwealth servicemen are buried in the cemetery, most of them British infantrymen who fought in 1917. There are also 210 graves from World War II and 30 post-war.

According to the Daily Telegraph, which highlighted the issue, the initial incident occurred when Israel launched Operation Summer Rains in retaliation for the kidnapping of Corporal Shalit, who is still missing.

Part of the perimeter wall was destroyed, along with headstones and olive trees, by bulldozers clearing undergrowth looking for Palestinian militants.

The second incident involved an operation in nearby Beit Hanoun, when cannon fire from an attack helicopter hit a group memorial stone and left 24 others damaged by shrapnel.

Palestinians attacked the cemetery in 2004 in protest at the treatment of Muslim prisoners by US troops in Iraq.

Last updated: 5:24pm, May 13 2008