Vandals attack Christian graveyard in northern Israel

Maronite Christians carry what is said to be the longest rosary in the world as they head to Sunday mass in Bkerke, Lebanon, on December 21, 2014 (AFP Photo/Anwar Amro) (AFP)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Vandals have smashed gravestones at a Maronite Christian cemetery in a village near Israel's northern border with Lebanon, Israeli police said on Wednesday.

Police opened an investigation after receiving a report about damage to a number of graves at a Christian cemetery in the village of Kufr Bir'im, spokeswoman Luba Samri said, indicating that the tombstones were "broken and displaced".

Kufr Bir'im is derelict Palestinian Arab village whose inhabitants were evicted by the Israeli army in 1948, six months after Israel was established, and never allowed to return. The village was almost totally razed by the Israeli army in 1953.

Last year, Lebanese patriarch of the Maronite church Beshara Rai paid a historic trip to the Holy Land during which he visited Kufr Bir'im, pledging to help the displaced villagers return. There are some 11,400 Maronite Catholics living in Israel.

The police did not say who was behind the attack but in recent years there have been a spate of hate crimes targeting Christian churches and cemeteries, with the perpetrators believed to be Jewish extremists.

On Tuesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin met with church leaders in Jerusalem's Old City, pledging to crack down on religiously inspired hate crime.