The cave illegally entered by two Palestinian suspects..
(photo credit: IAA)
Two Palestinians and two Israelis were arrested earlier in the week for allegedly colluding to attempt to loot buried gold from a protected ancient cave near the West Bank, the Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.
According to an Antiquities Authority official, the two Arab suspects, from Tulkarm, were caught “red handed” by inspectors from the organization’s robbery- prevention unit digging a 4.5-meter hole at the 1,800-year-old site, which dates to the Roman-Byzantine period.
The suspects were found with excavation equipment, including a generator, electric drill, lighting, shovels and numerous buckets, the official said in a statement.
Both men were taken to the Taiba police station for questioning.
“During the investigation of the suspects by inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority, it became clear that the two were hired to carry out excavations by three Israeli civilian suspects who are residents the Hefer Valley,” the statement said.
Two of the three Israeli suspects were then arrested by Antiquities Authority inspectors assisted by Border Police officers, while the third suspect managed to escape, the statement said.
A subsequent investigation determined that the group scouted the cave for several months for the buried treasure, and confessed to attempting to dig eight meters to find it.
Unauthorized excavation of ancient sites is a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison, the Antiquities Authority said.
Penalties for such crimes are severe because of the permanent damage illegal digging causes to protected sites, said Uzi Rotshtein, who heads the authority’s robbery unit.
“Every illegal excavation causes irreversible damage to antiquities, the layers of the archeological site and to the findings of archeologists,” he said.
“Unfortunately, legends and rumors of hidden gold treasures encourage people to try their luck but, in fact, the legends are groundless,” Rotshtein continued. “The act of excavating an antiquities site is a crime, and suspects in most cases find themselves behind bars instead of finding gold.”
Indictments are expected to be filed against all the suspects in the coming days, Rotshtein said.