Authorities catch suspected antiquities thief.
(photo credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)
A middle-aged Arab man was arrested earlier this week after allegedly attempting to loot an underground cave in northern Israel believed to contain valuable antiquities for sale on the black market, the Antiquities Authority Robbery Prevention Unit announced Thursday.
According to spokeswoman Yoli Schwartz, the incident took place near Afula, in the Jezreel Valley, on Tuesday night when the suspect, in his 50s and from a nearby Arab village, was found by Border Police and IAA officers with digging tools at the ancient ruins site.
“The suspect dug deep underground from 2,000-year-old holes in an attempt to get to an area below the hole that probably served as a storage unit in ancient times to find remnants that could be sold on the black market,” Schwartz said on Thursday.
After arresting the man, police determined that he is already standing trial in Nazareth for a previous looting incident, and was arrested one year ago when he illegally excavated a site near the Galilee, she said.
Although the man did not find any valuable relics, a spokesperson from IAA’s robbery prevention unit said he caused irreparable damage to the site, which is believed to have archeological remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras.
“The damage he caused is extensive and irreversible, and all because the greed of this robber seems insatiable,” the spokesman said. “It is important to know that excavating antiquities sites without a license is a severe violation of the law, for which there is a prison sentence of up to five years.”
The suspect was subsequently arraigned at a Nazareth court, where a judge extended his detention pending an investigation, Schwartz said.