During a routine patrol by inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation work was discerned that was being conducted illicitly in a shop located next to Marestan Square in the Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The shop is situated in the middle of a declared antiquity site, adjacent to the Church of the Redeemer and the Holy Sepulcher.
The workers that were performing the illegal excavation in the shop prevented inspectors from the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery from entering the establishment. The IAA inspectors returned to the site with a search warrant and with the aid of police officers from the David Precinct entered the shop. There they discovered extensive excavations and considerable damage that was caused by the use of a Bobcat type backhoe. In a complicated operation the inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery confiscated the backhoe as legal evidence and removed it from the Old City. The owners of the shop and the Bobcat and the contractor who was implementing the work were questioned under suspicion of having violated the Antiquities Law, and the work in the shop was halted until the investigation is concluded.
“There are historical and archaeological remains there that are of very great importance to the three major religions and any excavation in this region is likely to cause irreversible damage to the archaeological finds and historical evidence”, said the director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.
The Antiquities Authority reported that the entire area of the Old City of Jerusalem was declared an antiquities site and that damage to an antiquities site is a criminal offense punishable by five years imprisonment.