World

Ancient bibles, smuggled from Syria to Israel in spy mission, at center of ownership dispute

FILE - In this  Oct. 5, 2014 file photo, a library official shows a Jewish manuscript smuggled into Israel from Damascus in a Mossad spy operation in the early 1990s, in Jerusalem. The manuscript is one of the earliest existing complete manuscripts of the Hebrew bible. Two decades after Israeli spies helped whisk eight ancient Hebrew bibles from Damascus to Jerusalem, Israel’s national library asked an Israeli court Monday, Dec. 8, 2014 to grant it official custodianship over the manuscripts, a move that is liable to spark a bitter ownership battle over the some of the Syrian Jewish community’s most important treasures. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2014 file photo, a library official shows a Jewish manuscript smuggled into Israel from Damascus in a Mossad spy operation in the early 1990s, in Jerusalem. The manuscript is one of the earliest existing complete manuscripts of the Hebrew bible. Two decades after Israeli spies helped whisk eight ancient Hebrew bibles from Damascus to Jerusalem, Israel’s national library asked an Israeli court Monday, Dec. 8, 2014 to grant it official custodianship over the manuscripts, a move that is liable to spark a bitter ownership battle over the some of the Syrian Jewish community’s most important treasures. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)  (The Associated Press)

Two decades after Israeli spies helped whisk ancient Hebrew bibles from Damascus to Jerusalem, Israel's national library has asked an Israeli court to grant it official custodianship over the manuscripts.

The move could spark a bitter ownership battle over some of the Syrian Jewish community's most important treasures.

Known as the Crowns of Damascus, the bibles were written between 700 and 1,000 years ago. For hundreds of years, they were guarded inside synagogues in the Syrian capital.

Israel's Mossad spy agency spirited the bibles to Israel in the 1990s and turned them over to the library.

In Monday's request, the library asked to keep the bibles while independent trustees would oversee them in a public trust. But a former Syrian Jewish leader says the bibles are community property.