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.