The vandalism comes amid fears that opponents of the Gaza pullout plan could try to disrupt the withdrawal with an attack on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

 

In separate attacks on Monday, hate slogans were scrawled across the tombstones of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli leader David Ben Gurion and Theodor Herzl, pioneer of Zionism, by suspected right-wingers in what police fear has become a new phenonemon.

 

The tombs of Rabin and Herzl are both situated on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem while Ben Gurion's grave lies in a settlement in the southern Negev desert. Shmulik Ben Ruby, a spokesman for the Jerusalem police, said the force was confident the perpetrators would be found.

 

"We think that the extreme right wing is behind this," he said. "We have set up a special team to investigate, but we do not have specific names just now."

 

Vandalism decried

 

"Unfortunately this appears to be a new phenomemon with what has happened here and with Ben Gurion," Ben Ruby said. 

 

Desecration of tombs appears to
be a new phenomenon in Israel

Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who, along with Rabin and late Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, was awarded the Nobel peace prize for their work on the Oslo peace accords, condemned the vandalism.

 

The Oslo accords are regarded with contempt by right-wingers.

 

Peres replaced Rabin as prime minister after his assassination by an ultra-nationalist at a peace rally in Tel Aviv in 1995.

 

"These repugnant and shameful acts are perhaps the work of only one or two people, who are mentally deranged but these are people who can shatter and destroy our way of life," Peres said.

 

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently decided to employ security guards to protect the grave of his late wife Lily after extremists threatened to dig up her corpse.

 

Fears of incitement

 

Political leaders have voiced fears the atmosphere of incitement which marked the build-up to the killing of Rabin is being replicated by opponents of the plan to pull Jewish settlers out of the occupied Gaza Strip this summer. 

The Israeli security service is
monitoring some 500 people

 

Death threats directed against Sharon have led to a further tightening of his already formidable personal security, while the intelligence services are also trying to head off any possibile attack on the flashpoint mosque compound in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem.

 

Police sources said on Monday dozens of extra officers had now been deployed around the site, while more closed circuit television cameras were being installed to keep a close eye on any suspicious activity.

 

The internal security service Shin Beth is monitoring about 500 people, the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper reported, adding that a number of settlers were barred from entering the site last week.

 

March banned

 

The mosque compound, called al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), shelters the Dome of the Rock (Umar Mosque) and al-Aqsa Mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.

 

It is also revered by Jews who refer to it as the Temple Mount, once the site of the Jewish temple, the holiest shrine in Judaism, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE.

 

Police have banned a rally called by the Revava (Myriad) movement at the compound which had been planned for 10 April, one day before Sharon meets US President George Bush in Texas.

 

The group is linked to the Kach movement, which advocates the expulsion of all Arabs from Greater Israel, or the biblical expanse of the Jewish kingdom which stretched from the Mediterranean to modern-day Jordan.

 

Kach was outlawed after one of its members, Baruch Goldstein, killed 29 Palestinians praying at a disputed Hebron holy site in February 1994.