Israeli contractors dig up Muslim graves at 'museum of tolerance'

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Israeli contractors building a controversial "museum of tolerance" in West Jerusalem have been accused of digging up and damaging hundreds of human skeletons from an ancient Muslim graveyard.

Reigniting a dispute that has simmered for six years, Israel's left-leaning Haaretz newspaper claimed that overseers badly botched a "clandestine" five-month operation to excavate the highly-sensitive Mamilla Cemetery.

The allegations are almost certain to rouse anger among Palestinian campaigners who argue that the site holds the remains of some of the Prophet Mohammed's compatriots as well as soldiers in the army of Saladin, who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the 12th century.

The planned museum has been the subject of acrimony ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, formally inaugurated the project in a corner of the cemetery in 2004.

Two years ago, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed a petition to prevent the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre from building the museum after hearing that any human remains discovered at the construction site would be excavated professionally and with dignity.

But according to Haaretz, up to 1,500 skeletons were discovered during the subsequent excavation -- far more than had been expected -- and many were treated with casual disdain.

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