Monday, December 16, 2013

Prisoners for plundered Judaica in Syria?

 The Jobar synagogue, before it was looted


Footage of the synagogue (starts at 1 min 26), devastated by looting and bombing (with thanks: Raphail)  

Torah scrolls and other Judaica plundered from an ancient Damascus synagogue are being held by an Islamist group inside Syria, which is demanding the release of prisoners captured by the Assad regime in return for the items, The Times of Israel has learned (With thanks: Lily):

Reports on the destruction and looting of the millennia-old Jobar synagogue in Damascus emerged as early as March, but those responsible for the theft have never been clearly identified, as government and opposition forces traded accusations. 

The Jobar synagogue — said to be 2,000-years-old — was built on the site where the prophet Elijah is said to have concealed himself from persecution and anointed his successor, Elisha, as a prophet. It was badly damaged in March by mortars reportedly fired by Syrian government forces; some reports say the building was destroyed.

A source involved in negotiating for the release of the Judaica items and their extraction from Syria, speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the objects were being held inside Syria by a group affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist organization associated with al-Qaeda and defined as a terrorist organization by the US. He said the stolen items include at least three or four Torah scrolls as well as ancient Jewish scrolls and silverware.

“They took everything they could get their hands on,” the source said. “They want prisoners held by Assad [in exchange for them].”

The source said that Qatar may become involved in negotiating the release of the items as part of its diplomatic bid “to play both sides” and demonstrate negotiating capabilities with the Assad regime. Members of the expatriate Syrian-Jewish community are also reportedly involved in the talks.

“They [the Qataris] have a certain interest in showing that they can handle elements they usually don’t get along with … The Qataris like to play on all fields,” he said.

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