Three men were arrested on suspicion that they illegally dug at an archaeological site, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Thursday.
The digging “destroyed historical layers in an Ottoman well” at Horbat Maaravim near Rahat, the IAA said.
The authority said the three were suspected of searching for hidden treasure that according to a Bedouin myth is buried in the well located inside a cave.
The site has ancient remains from the Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic and Ottoman periods.
The IAA said the arrests were made on November 8 and that the site had been under surveillance at the time of the incident.
There was no immediate comment from police.
Damaging an archaeological site is a criminal offense and can be punished with up to five years’ imprisonment. The IAA said one of the suspects had previously been convicted on a similar charge.
“It must be absolutely clear to the public that rumors of hidden treasures have no archaeological or historical basis,” Amir Ganor, director of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit in the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.
“No treasure has been discovered to date, but irreparable damage has been done to the archaeological sites, undermining the possibility of reconstructing the history of all the peoples of this country,” he said.