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Police nab gang suspected of burgling Yad Vashem Holocaust center

Four Palestinians accused of making off with art and other items worth millions of shekels in other heists; suspects remain silent, frustrating investigation

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Yad Vashem security guard in the empty Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on April 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Yad Vashem security guard in the empty Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on April 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Four men have been arrested on suspicion that they carried out a series of break-ins that targeted, among other places, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

Details of the case were revealed during a remand hearing for the suspects, an East Jerusalem Palestinian and three from the West Bank.

While Yad Vashem said that the gang stole some cash from its offices and nothing of significant value, police say the thieves also robbed the Wilfrid Israel Museum on Kibbutz Hazorea, making off with valuable art.

They also allegedly broke into two northern shooting ranges, one in Caesarea and another in Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar, as well as other businesses including some in Kibbutz Mishmarot, also in the north. Investigators say the gang was active from August until the arrest two weeks ago.

Police have not recovered any stolen items and the suspects are refusing to cooperate with investigators.

The presiding judge in the hearing found that there was enough material to warrant extending their detention out of concern they may obstruct the investigation and pose a risk to the public.

They were identified by Israeli crime news site Posta as Ahmed Awad, 35, of Qalandiya and three West Bank residents, all from the same family, Mahmed, Muhammad, and Adi Malichat, aged 21-37 from Jaba’, southwest of Jenin.

The total value of the items they are accused of taking was estimated at some NIS 20 million ($6,234,338), according to the report.

At the hearing police said the four were stopped as they drove on Route 6 returning from activities related to the crimes, and that there were burglary tools in the vehicle. Police described them as a “bold and sophisticated gang” and said they have forensic evidence tying the suspects to the crimes.

Asked by the suspects’ legal representative if their homes have been searched, police told the court that the men were remaining silent and refusing to give their home addresses, Posta reported.

Police representatives said the matter was still being investigated and that the probe had branched out into other directions.

In a statement to Channel 12, Yad Vashem said that the break-in was in the office area of the museum and “no items of value were stolen, other than a little money that was in a drawer and some chocolate. Also, there was damage to a drinks machine.”

At the Wilfrid Israel Museum, the gang allegedly stole items from the Far East valued at millions of shekels. According to the report the break-in at the kibbutz museum was caught on camera, though the site’s aging alarm system was not triggered when the thieves broke in. Video footage showed burglars making two trips into the museum in one night, borrowing a sheet and some bags from the kibbutz laundry on the second entry in order to be able carry off more items.

More property was taken from the shooting ranges, police said, without specifying or revealing if firearms were in the hoard.

Attorneys Yossi Zilberberg and Nashef Darwish representing the defendants said it was significant that police had not recovered any stolen items from their clients.

“How could the police follow the suspects for such a long time and not find any property?” the attorneys told Channel 12.

The attorneys claimed that police have not presented the suspects with any evidence tying them to the break-ins and called for their clients to be released to house arrest.

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