By YAAKOV LAPPIN, JPOST.COM STAFF
The Beersheba Magistrate's Court on Tuesday extended by four days the remand of two men suspected of vandalizing the ancient Nabatean site of Avdat on Sunday night.
The suspects, a 47-year-old and a 51-year-old, denied involvement in the incident, in which walls and high columns were smashed to pieces, and paint and oil splashed over the ruins.
MK Taleb A'Sanaa (UAL-Ta'al) spoke out against the arrests Tuesday, which he called a "field trial and media lynch."
"We harshly condemn the act, but also the witch hunt against the Arab public," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, police revealed that one of the two Beduin men arrested in the case is the security guard of the national park.
Avdat was originally a seasonal camping ground for Nabataean caravans traveling along the early Petra-Gaza road in the 3rd-late 2nd century BCE. A town, founded at the site 1,900 years ago, was later settled by the Byzantines, who built churches in the area.
It was a declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005, and contains many archaeological treasures, attracting tourists from Israel and abroad all year round.
The attack came hours after illegal structures in an adjacent Beduin community were demolished by the state, leading many to suspect that the attack was an act of revenge.
Southern Police District chief Cmdr. Yohanan Danino said, "Damage to public property is a severe enough crime, but when sites with national historical value are targeted, it is even worse.
"We have assembled a special team to investigate, and we will bring those responsible to justice."
Just one guard was tasked with overlooking the site at night by the Nature and Parks Authority.
According to a law enforcement source, the authority had in recent weeks received warnings that security was inadequate at the site.
"Tour guides arrived on Monday morning to conduct tours, and saw a few walls with paint on them," said Avda Lloyd, from the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, where the site is located.
"As they advanced they saw the extent of the damage. Black oil was thrown on the walls. Pieces of columns were on the floor. At least 15 columns were smashed. Walls were broken. And churches were vandalized. It was a horrendous sight," she added.
"Beduin structures in Mizpe Ramon were destroyed one day before this.
"We know to expect vandalism after that happens. Police warn us and we pass the message on to farmers. But this is a significant escalation. This hurts emotionally, because never before has a national park been targeted," Lloyd said.
In addition to Avdat, a nearby farm suffered thousands of shekels worth of damage, with crops ripped out and a sprinkler system damaged, she added. "Some farmers sleep on their farms after receiving the warnings," Lloyd said.
"This raises the anger levels here against the Beduin, and at the state's failure to protect the site," she said. "Government sovereignty in the South is something we read about in the papers here. It's not something we encounter."
Avdat was reopened to the public on Monday afternoon, although it will take up to six months for archaeologists to repair the damaged sections, a spokesman for the Negev Development Authority said.
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