The holiest Jewish site in Syria – the 2,000-year-old Jobar Synagogue in Damascus – has been looted and burned, and its roof blown off. The Syrian army and rebel forces have both blamed each other for the demolition of the historic landmark.
It is believed that the Jobar Synagogue, one of the world’s oldest, was built atop a cave where the Prophet Elijah once hid from persecution. One of the earliest historical mentions of the synagogue can be found in the Talmud.
According to Israel Radio, the rebels claimed that the Syrian government looted the synagogue before burning it to the ground. Meanwhile, the government alleged that the rebels had burned down the synagogue. It has also been claimed that “Zionist agents” stole historic artifacts from the holy site as part of a planned operation, Al-Manar Television reported.
Earlier this year, the Jobar synagogue was damaged by shells reportedly fired by Syrian government forces. A video uploaded by the Syrian opposition in early March exposed the damage done to the structure.
The synagogue is regarded as Syria’s holiest pilgrimage site for Jews. In the past, the sick were brought to the cavern below the synagogue and left there alone at night, in hopes that Elisha’s spirit would heal them.
There is an inscription in English at the synagogue: “Shrine and synagogue of Prophet Eliahou Hanabi since 720 BC.” During the medieval period, it served a large Jewish community.
In 2011, Syrian President Bashar Assad approved the renovation of 11 synagogues across the country, including the Jobar Synagogue in Damascus.
Syria is home to six UNESCO world heritage sites: The ruins of Palmyra, the citadels of Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, the city of Bosra, its ancient northern villages and the Old Cities of Damascus and Aleppo.
The 12th-century Crac des Chevaliers fortress, which used to be one of the most-visited landmarks in Syria before the conflict began, was seriously damaged by artillery fire as the Syrian army attempted to clear out a rebel encampment.
Fierce fighting in Damascus and Aleppo has resulted in the destruction of many historic landmarks; UNESCO has repeatedly called on the international community to protect Syria’s cultural heritage. Earlier this year, ancient mosaics depicting scenes from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ were illegally excavated at an archeological site and smuggled to Lebanon.
And last year, an 8th-century-BC Aramaic gold-plated bronze statue was stolen from a museum in Hama, which has become a battlefield in the conflict between the army and rebels. In December 2012, the statue was put on Interpol’s ‘Most Wanted Works of Art’ poster.
Many Christian churches have been destroyed during the ongoing conflict in Syria, and Christian minorities are being forced to flee their homes.
“Our churches have been attacked in all provinces,” Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop Luke told RT. “In Saidnaya the monastery was under fire, but, thank God, a miracle happened – the shell landed in the yard, breaking through the wall, but didn’t explode.”
“Everywhere – in Harasta, Arbin, Zabadani, Daraa, Aleppo and around Damascus, our churches and our people have been attacked. Our cathedral in Raqqa has been severely damaged,” Bishop Luke said.
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