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Looted and Burned': Ancient Synagogue in Syria Reportedly Damaged -- Here Are the Details
(Photo: YouTube)

Looted and Burned': Ancient Synagogue in Syria Reportedly Damaged -- Here Are the Details

Spin: "The Zionist intelligence agency has succeeded in robbing various precious items from the synagogue located in Jobar neighborhood..."

(ThBlaze/AP) -- A Jewish synagogue in Damascus believed to be thousands of years old has been looted and burned as clashes consume the surrounding neighborhood, a Syrian official and an anti-government activist both said Monday.

Damage to the Jobar Synagogue, which tradition holds was built by the biblical prophet Elisha, is the latest example of Syria's rich cultural heritage falling victim to the civil war between President Bashar Assad's regime and rebels seeking his ouster.

Before the Syrian conflict started two years ago, sites dating back to the Bible, the Roman empire and the Crusaders attracted tourists from all over the world. But combatants now garrison themselves in historic castles, turning them into targets.

(Photo: YouTube)

According to the Israeli news site Haaretz, it is unclear whether the rebels or Assad's forces are responsible for the damage to the historic religious site.  The rebels are claiming government forces looted the synagogue before burning it to the ground, but the government's spin is far more interesting.  Lebanon's Al-Manar translates:

The Zionist intelligence agency has succeeded in robbing various precious items from the synagogue located in Jobar neighborhood, north-east of the Syrian capital, Syria Truth website reported.

The Zionist agents were assisted by the Jordanian Kingdom, Turkish militias, the so-called “Free Syrian Army” and al-Nosra front of al-Qaeda which controls the area, the website stated.

But while international reports claim the destruction was almost complete, the Associated Press has been unable to verify the extent of the damage.

Either way, the Jobar Synagogue -- which was also damaged last month --  was one of the last relics of the area's once sizable Jewish population.

In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke rises from buildings due to shelling in Damascus, Syria, on Thursday, March 28, 2013. (Photo: AP)

"It was a very prestigious synagogue to hold a pulpit in and there were great rabbinic scholars who held court there over the centuries," said author Joseph Braude, who has written about Jewish history in the Arab world. "Long after Damascus ceased to be central to Jewish learning, the synagogue continued to be an important pilgrimage site and a place of worship for Jews living in Damascus."

The synagogue fell out of use after the foundation of Israel in 1948 and the departure of most of Syria's Jews during the next few decades. Before Syria's conflict began, it was opened only occasionally for tourists and pilgrims.

Activist videos posted online last month showed the building's simple door with rubble in front of it. One wall had a hole in it, and part of a short wall around the roof was missing. It showed two plaques near the door. One, in English, read: "Shrine and Synagogue of Prophet Eliahou Hanabi, Since 720 B.C."

An anti-government activist in Jobar reached via Skype on Monday said the synagogue had been looted continuously during recent months and was damaged by government shelling meant to push rebels from the area.

"I don't know exactly what was there originally, but we know there were lots of old books and artifacts that are not there anymore," said the activist, who goes by the name Abu Hassaan al-Damishqi.

He said the site had been looted by government soldiers or thieves taking advantage of a lack of security.

"This is the history of the city, and it doesn't matter if you are a Muslim or not," he said. "This is the history of our country, so we all want to protect it."

The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011.

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