France to open hate crime office after Jewish cemetery vandalized

France's Interior Ministry vowed on Wednesday to create a dedicated office for combatting hate crimes after more than 100 Jewish graves were found desecrated at a cemetery near the city of Strasbourg.

"The republic itself has been desecrated," said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner (above center) said after a visit to the 16-century cemetery. "Hatred has struck, there is hatred on our national territory.

"We will do everything so that the people who have done this are convicted," he added.

The incident occurred overnight on Tuesday in the town of Westhoffen, some 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Strasbourg, in the northeast region of Alsace. Some 107 graves were smeared with either swastikas or other forms of anti-Semitic graffiti. The cemetery is most notable for housing the tombs of Karl Marx's ancestors as well as those of Leon Blum, a French former prime minister.

"You will never wipe away our memory or our identity, neither with your paint or whatever you use," said Harold Abraham Weill, the grand rabbi of Strasbourg.

According to national statistics, police reports of anti-Semitic incidents rose 74% in 2018 compared to the previous year, prompting widespread concern in the country with the largest Jewish population in the European Union.

"Jews are and make France," President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter Tuesday. "Those who attack them, even their graves, are not worthy of the idea we have of France."

"Anti-Semitism is a crime and we will fight it in Westhoffen as everywhere until our dead can sleep in peace," he added.

es/sms (AFP, AP)

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