St Matthew's tomb 'damaged in air strike'ITN, 08/24/1999
The tomb of St Matthew has been damaged in an Allied air strike on a military target in Iraq, according to reports.
Britain's Ministry of Defence confirmed that Allied aircraft did hit an air defence target at Ba'ashiqah on August 10, but could not say if there was damage to the Christian site.
However, the MoD supported the continuing raids against Iraq, saying that British and US air crews are defending the local ethnic populations in the north and south from Saddam Hussein.
Junior defence minister John Spellar was unable to confirm the reports of damage to the tomb.
Mr Spellar was responding to claims raised by Labour MP Tam Dalyell that the reputed burial site of St Matthew, 20 miles from the town of Mosul, was hit by Allied bombs.
Mr Dalyell was alerted to the bombing report by Dr Charles Reed, of the Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility, who visited Iraq as part of an official church delegation last month.
Dr Reed stressed the claim had not been verified, but added: "It would be very sad and upsetting if this were the case.
"It would be an indictment of British bombing policy in Iraq."
But Mr Spellar said: "Our aircraft are there in order to defend the Kurds in the north and the Sh'ia in the south against atrocities from Saddam Hussein and they are being targeted: some 300 direct attacks on our crews since December.
"He's trying to kill Allied air crew and we're defending ourselves."
The objective of stopping Saddam attacking his own people
and threatening stability in the region was being
achieved, he insisted.