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Vandalized WWII-era graves in Libya to be restored

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 5, 2012 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
  • NEW: "This could take some time," war graves commission says
  • The new Libyan government condemns the desecration of some 200 graves
  • Vandalism of Christian and Jewish graves was recorded and posted on YouTube
  • On Sunday, Britain urged Libya's leadership to investigate

(CNN) -- Two World War II-era cemeteries that were vandalized over the weekend by armed men in Benghazi will be restored, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said in a posting on its website.

Hundreds of gravestones marking the bodies of Christian and Jewish soldiers were kicked from their locations, many of them broken, in the Benghazi War Cemetery and the Benghazi British Military Cemetery, the CWGC said. "Both cemeteries will be restored to a standard befitting the sacrifice of those commemorated at Benghazi, but this could take some time because we will need to source replacement stones," the organization said.

"We will also need to be sure that it's safe for the detailed work to be carried out, but in the meantime we will ensure that temporary markers are erected over the graves. We have no reports of any maintenance staff being injured in the attack."

Britain urged Libya's new leadership Sunday to investigate the desecration of the more than 200 Commonwealth war graves that were vandalized, acts filmed and posted on YouTube.

Libya's National Transitional Council said Sunday it regrets what happened, calling it "unethical, irresponsible and criminal," and promised to prosecute those responsible.

"We strongly reject these acts that are rejected by the Islamic faith," the NTC said in a statement. "Such practices do not represent at all the local public opinion and they contradict the Islamic principles that emphasize and urge the respect of religions and beliefs."

In the YouTube video, a group of men is seen walking around the graves, kicking down headstones and using sledgehammers to chip away at a cross at the front of the cemetery.

A voice off camera says, "Destroy the cross, these filthy dogs." Other voices mock inscriptions on the gravestones, including one engraved with the Star of David.

The description of the video says it is a response to the recent burnings of Qurans by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but CNN cannot independently confirm that.

Benghazi was the birthplace of last year's Libyan revolution. The 1,500 graves in the cemeteries hold the bodies of servicemen who died during and after World War II.

There was no evidence of damage to the graves themselves, only the headstones, the British Foreign Office said.

CNN's Saad Abedine, Ashley Gallagher, and Bharati Naik contributed to this report.

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