Syria accuses Israel of removing Jewish artifacts from Damascus temple

“This is yet another attempt by the Syrian regime to distract attention from the atrocities it is inflicting on its own people,” said Israel's UN envoy.

March 22, 2018 23:46
3 minute read.
Syria accuses Israel of removing Jewish artifacts from Damascus temple

A damaged synagogue is seen in the Damascus suburb of Jobar December 14, 2014. The shrine and synagogue of prophet Eliahou Hanabi, dates back to 720 B.C.. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED BADRA)


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LOS ANGELES – The Syrian government has accused Israel of conducting a clandestine operation, together with Turkey, to remove ancient artifacts from a synagogue in metropolitan Damascus.

In a formal complaint sent to the United Nations Security Council, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari accused the two countries of cooperating with “terrorist groups” to remove valuable items from the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, also known as the Jobar Synagogue.

“[My] government wishes to transmit highly credible intelligence to the effect that the terrorist groups that are active in the area of Jobar, near Damascus, cooperated with the Turkish and Israeli intelligence services to loot artifacts and manuscripts from the ancient synagogue there,” Ja’afari said.

The Syrian ambassador went on to write, “The items were then smuggled through local and foreign intermediaries to Istanbul, where they were received by antiquities experts who certified that they were extremely valuable antique objects. The items were subsequently smuggled to New York.”

In a response provided exclusively to The Jerusalem Post, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called the letter a distraction aimed at drawing the world’s attention away from the Syrian civil war, which has left more than 500,000 people dead over the past seven years.

“This is yet another attempt by the Syrian regime to distract attention from the atrocities it is inflicting on its own people,” said Danon. “The fact is, that while [President Bashar] Assad mercilessly butchers women and children, Israel continues to provide humanitarian aid to wounded and displaced Syrians who arrive at our border.”
In the Front Seat With Assad as He Tours Eastern Ghouta, March 19, 2018 (Reuters)

In May 2014, the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue was destroyed in a vicious battle between the Syrian Army and rebel factions.
According to The Daily Beast, the synagogue was looted of precious historical artifacts in the aftermath of the bloody skirmishes while nearly 70% of the complex was leveled in numerous mortar attacks.

The synagogue had a plaque saying it was from 720 BCE, and was frequently said to be 2,000 years old. The earliest verifiable literary sources date back to the Middle Ages.

It was situated in the village of Jobar, now part of metropolitan Damascus. It was built atop a cave traditionally thought to have served the Prophet Elijah while in hiding. The hall center was said to be the place where Elijah anointed Elisha as a prophet in his stead.

Mamoun Abdulkarim, the head of Syria’s antiquities department, said at the time that “Jewish authorities” tried to go in and recover artifacts inside the synagogue but “were prevented from entering due to the presence of fighters."

“Local community officials say the place’s sanctity has been violated and there were thefts, but I cannot verify the nature of the thefts without investigation,” Abdulkarim told Reuters by telephone.

Jobar was home to a large Jewish community for hundreds of years until the 1800s.

Rebels fighting to overthrow the Assad regime began moving into Jobar in July 2013, and the area subsequently suffered heavily from government air strikes and artillery.

Pro-Assad groups blame rebels for damage to Syria’s heritage, while the opposition blames the government. Documentary evidence has shown both sides destroying ancient castles and shrines with shelling, gun battles and targeted explosions.
Other Jewish sites remained unharmed and in government hands, according Abdulkarim.

“We deal with these [synagogues] in their archeological value as we are dealing with a mosque or church, no differently. It is part of our heritage. Jewish culture is preserved,” he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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