Damaged mosaic (illustrative)
Damaged mosaic (illustrative) Antiquities Authoriity

Several residents of the Arab village of Kisra were arrested Sunday night, after they were caught trying to dismantle a sixth-century mosaic floor from an ancient church.

The would-be thieves, who were caught after a wild chase by police on the dark roads of the Galilee, caused considerable damage to the floor, in what police said was one of the worst incidents of vandalism to antiquities ever in Israel.

Police caught the thieves after officers spied a suspicious vehicle in the area of the church.

As soon as he saw police, the driver of the vehicle began driving in a wild manner in order to get away. Police managed to stop the vehicle, and discovered two Kisra residents in their 20s.

Upon searching the vehicle, police were shocked to see large portions of the ancient mosaic floor in the vehicle's trunk.

The church that the mosaic had been stolen from was, until now, frequented by many Christian tour groups, and was considered one of the most complete and beautiful church mosaics in the Middle East.

Amir Ganor, director of theft prevention in the Antiquities Authority, said that Israel “would not allow ISIS-style destruction of our cultural assets, which belong to everyone." 

"This is one of the worst cases of vandalism against antiquities in northern Israel in recent years. We will strongly prosecute the people behind this evil act. We have arrested two people, and more arrests are expected."

“The punishment for destroying antiquities under Israeli law is five years in prison, and we intend to demand that these thieves be subject to the full penalty,” added Ganor.