Authorities caught five suspects red-handed trying to rob a 2,000-year-old antiquities site in northern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Monday.
The suspects were trying to rob a Roman-Byzantine site in the village of Ein Mahil, near Nazareth.
“We recently noticed robbery excavations that took place illegally around the village of Ein Mahil,” said Nir Distelfeld, the inspector of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s robbery prevention unit in the northern region.
“From that moment, we went on an operation until we caught the robbers. The operation lasted about three weeks,” he explained.
“We ambushed them, and as soon as we recognized that they had started digging, I called for assistance from the North District Police and led the policeman who came to help. Together, we caught them red-handed,” said Distelfeld.
The site where the thieves tried to dig is called Einat Shu’a. There was a water source there and a large settlement around it. Around the site, researchers identified finds from the prehistoric period to the Ottoman period, but the main settlement was in the Roman-Byzantine periods. Long and branching “hiding caves” were also found on the site.
According to the Antiquities Authority, the hiding caves of Einat Shu’a are likely related to the Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire. Jews dug dozens of caves in the Galilee in preparation for the revolts, though the battles did not reach the region.
“Fortunately, the hiding caves, which are among the largest in the area, were not damaged during the recent robbery incidents,” Distenfeld said.
According to Distelfeld, “Next to the cave were tools that the robbers planned to use—sledgehammers, hammers, quarrying tools and metal detectors. In front of the cave you can see medium-sized ancient quarrying. These were, apparently, storage cells. It is possible that the captured suspects had time to ‘clean’ the cells. These are ancient from findings before they were caught. No antiquities were found in the search of the bodies of the suspects, but the matter is under investigation.”