Major fire breaks out at Susya archaeological site in Hebron hills
The site features a unique 1,700 year-old synagogue. In the past decades, the area has been a focal point of tensions between the Palestinian and the Israeli population in the West Bank.
By ROSSELLA TERCATIN
A major fire broke out at the archaeological site of Susya located in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank on the night between Wednesday and Thursday. The event was confirmed to The Jerusalem Post by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) spokesperson.The area is home to remains from several periods in the history of the land of Israel, including the late Roman period, the Byzantine, early Islamic Era and the Ottoman period. Its major attraction is a synagogue dating back to the end of the 3rd century CE, featuring unique mosaic floors presenting Hebrew inscriptions and Jewish symbols.The fire was put out by five teams of firefighters before it reached the core of the site.“When we arrived at the scene, we detected a strong fire on several fronts,” Michael Almasi, deputy commander of Yehuda Regional Firefighting Station, told the Hebrew website Ynet. “We carried out the operation in difficult visibility conditions due to the darkness and the heavy smoke in the area.”Based on a first survey of the site, the fire seems to have caused no significant damage.“The situation is fine, it could have been much worse if it had reached the synagogue,” the director of the site Nadav Abramov, a professional tour guide, told the Post. “The fire affected the northern and western parts which are usually not visited by people. The areas are all blackened but no damage has been reported so far.”Abramov explained that the fire was not very high and part of the site had been cleared from weeds the previous day.Advertisement“However, we have not yet carried out a complete survey because of Tisha Be’av. We will be smarter tomorrow,” he added.While the COGAT spokesperson said that the causes of the fire are still unknown, Abramov said he believed it was deliberate arson.“The fire started at midnight and it was scattered across the area in a number of distinct locations. A site does not simply catch fire in the middle of the night,” he said. "It is only important to highlight that only the good work of the fire brigade prevented serious and significant damage to the ancient synagogue. They managed to stop the fire just a few dozen meters from it."Over the past decades, Susya has been a focal point of tension between the Palestinian and the Israeli populations in the West Bank. In addition to the archaeological site, the area located under full Israeli control in Area C is home to both a Palestinian village and an Israeli settlement.