The Jewish catacombs are part of the St Paul's catacombs in Rabat, discovered at the end of the 19th century and dating to the late Roman period some 1,500 years ago.
The Maltese Jewish community called in international experts from Israel and the US to provide proper burials according to Jewish law, and the controversy began.
The Jewish catacombs in Rabat were at the centre of controversy in recent days after Heritage Malta called in police when a Jewish religious delegation allegedly entered the site without authorisation.The visit of the delegation was confirmed by CEO of Heritage Malta, Luciano Mulè Stagno, who said a police report was made a policeman place on guard outside the entrance.
The Jewish community in Malta is demanding that the human bones found inside the catacombs are given a proper burial according to Jewish rites.
A Jewish delegation made up of at least 10 experts, Rabbis and archaeologists from Israel and the US was brought over to Malta by the Jewish community to carry out the burial.
The Jewish community's representative, Lawrence Attard Bezzina, denied the delegation entered unlawfully.
"We were scheduled to meet Heritage Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage at the site. The gate was open and since it was raining, the delegation entered into the property to be shielded from the rain. The moment they were asked to leave by the person on guard they immediately left," he said insisting that at no time did they dispute the instructions given to them.Attard Bezzina and Mulè Stagno said both sides were in talks to find a solution to respect the requests of the Jewish community which is in line with Maltese laws, because it is an important and unique archaeological site
Mr Attard Bezzina said the Jewish community had long been asking the Maltese authorities to grant them the right to give the human remains a proper burial. "The bones are scattered around and for us that is a sacrilege. We brought over experts from Israel and the US to work under the supervision of the superintendence so that the remains are granted a proper burial," Mr Attard Bezzina said.
According to Jewish rites, Jewish remains should be handled by Jewish people.
"The catacombs are also the only evidence of the presence of a Jewish community in Malta at the time. It is an important archaeological site for us," Dr Mulè Stagno said. He said Heritage Malta insisted that everything should remain on site and that the site remained within the jurisdiction of the State.The site may be government property but the Jewish community says the bones are not.
"We cannot permit human remains to be left uncovered and scattered around. We want to find a place in the catacombs themselves in agreement with the agency and give the bones a proper burial. We are not asking for the catacombs to be closed or barred to the public," Mr Attard Bezzina said.
Additional meetings are planned. For some idea of how the paper's readers feel about the issue, take some time to read the comments to the article.
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