ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Ancient Jerusalem tombs damaged in suspected arson

Iconic ‘archaeological gems’ from Second Temple era at base of Mount of Olives suffer extensive damage

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Detail from the tomb of King Jehoshaphat, Kidron Valley, Jerusalem, after a suspected arson attack, November 14, 2016. (Photo by Assaf Avraham, Nature and Parks Authority)
Detail from the tomb of King Jehoshaphat, Kidron Valley, Jerusalem, after a suspected arson attack, November 14, 2016. (Photo by Assaf Avraham, Nature and Parks Authority)

Fires severely damaged two ancient tombs, one of them an iconic landmark, outside Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, in what police suspect may have been arson.

An initial investigation by firefighters points to unknown persons setting fire to Absalom’s Tomb in the Kidron Valley, opposite the Temple Mount, and the adjacent Tomb of Jehoshephat, Ynet reported.

The tombs are among a cluster of ancient graves at the base of the Mount of Olives dating to the Second Temple period.

Absalom’s Tomb is traditionally identified as a monument to the biblical figure of the same name, but archaeologists have dated the edifice to the 1st century CE.

Absalom's Tomb with the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in the background, Kidron Valley, Jerusalem (Shmuel Bar-Am)
Absalom’s Tomb with the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in the background, Kidron Valley, Jerusalem (Shmuel Bar-Am)
The tomb of King Jehoshaphat, Kidron Valley, Jerusalem, after a suspected arson attack.
The tomb of King Jehoshaphat, Kidron Valley, Jerusalem, after a suspected arson attack, November 14, 2016. (Photo by Assaf Avraham, Nature and Parks Authority)

The fires broke out around 4:15 p.m. on Friday and caused extensive damage to the 2,000-year-old structures.

Assaf Avraham, the Israel Park’s Authority administrator in charge of the national park surrounding the Old City’s walls, said in a statement that the blazes “caused damage to values of [historic] heritage and archaeological gems of great value.”

“We will act to the extent of our abilities with law enforcement, including the police, to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” he said.

A police spokesman couldn’t immediately comment on the case.

Three other suspected arson attacks targeting municipal sewage trucks took place in East Jerusalem Friday night as well, but there was no indication there was any correlation between the fires and the suspected attack on the ancient tombs.

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