SALONIKA (AFP)---The head of Greece's Jewish community warned Monday that work on a new metro line for the northern city of Salonika risks disturbing the remains of a historic Jewish cemetery.
"The entire area was once a Jewish cemetery. In-depth excavation is certain to hit upon graves and remains," Moses Constantinis, head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS), told AFP.
"We would not want the peace of the dead to be disturbed. In our religion, it is a sin to move the dead after burial."
The metro tunnels will run well beneath the cemetery, but one station will surface near the Aristotelio University library, where excavation has unearthed the remains of Jewish funerary monuments, community sources say.
"We would like the area studied, and if excavation interferes with the cemetery, which we believe it does, then to avoid building (the station) or move it to a different location," Constantinis said.
The issue was raised last week during a visit to Greece by the US special envoy for Holocaust issues, Ambassador J. Christian Kennedy.
The Jewish cemetery, one of the largest in Europe, was razed in 1942 during the German wartime occupation of Greece.
Two decades later, the cemetery site was built on during an expansion of Aristotelio University.
Founded more than five centuries ago, the cemetery is believed to have held more than 300,000 graves.
Construction work on the Salonika metro began last summer, more than a decade after plans for an underground train were first floated by local authorities. It is scheduled to be completed in 2012.
Home to a thriving Sephardic Jewish community of around 50,000 people
before World War II, Salonika was once known as the "Jerusalem of the Balkans."
Virtually all of the city's Jews perished in Nazi extermination camps.
The Greek Jewish community now numbers around 6,000 people.