Syria Jihadists Hold Torahs Hostage; Demand Prisoner Release

Tuesday, 17 Dec 2013 04:09 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Jihadists are holding Torah scrolls and other religious materials looted from the Jobar synagogue, an ancient Damascus landmark, and are demanding the release of prisoners held by President Bashar Assad’s government in exchange for their safe return, the Times of Israel reported.

A source involved in negotiating the release of the material and getting it out of Syria told The Times of Israel that it is being held by the al-Nusra Front, an Islamist organization associated with al-Qaida and designated a terrorist group by the State Department.

The stolen items are believed to include at least three or four Torah 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].”

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The Jobar synagogue in Damascus, which is believed to be more than 2,000 years old, was built on the site where Elijah the Jewish prophet anointed Elisha his successor. It was reportedly damaged in early March by mortars fired by Syrian government forces, the Times of Israel reported in April.

Since then, the government and the rebels have exchanged accusations about who was responsible for looting the synagogue. The rebels accused government forces of attacking the building before setting fire to it.

But, according to the government, the rebels burned the synagogue while “Zionist agents” stole historic religious items. 

The source said that Qatar may become involved in negotiating the release of the items, while Syrian-Jewish expatriates are reportedly participating in the talks.

Approximately 40,000 Jews lived in Syria in 1948. By last year, that number had dwindled to around 100, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

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