Israel Returns Smuggled Ancient Relics to Egypt

Israel Returns Smuggled Ancient Relics to Egypt

Photo: Shlomi Amsalem/GPO

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid presented to Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry 95 Egyptian relics that were illegally smuggled into Israel last week, which occurred during Lapid’s diplomatic visit to Cairo to hold talks with President Abdel Fattal El-Sisi.

“At the request of the Egyptian authorities and as a gesture of goodwill, the Israeli government and the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to return the items to the Egyptians,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated on Facebook. 

Four of the relics were caught in 2013 at the Ben Gurion Airport after a dealer attempted to smuggle the Egyptian antiquities into the country. The relics were purchased by the dealer in England; he attempted smuggling them into Israel without passing through customs.

Indeed, Israel, which is arguably the only Middle Eastern country with a legal framework which enables the purchase and selling of antiquities in stores with proven provenance, is a significant crossroad in the international trade in antiquities. Egyptian, and Middle Eastern antiquities, eventually find permanent homes into the United States and mainland Europe through its regulated market. 

The Israel Antiquities Authority updated the Egyptian authorities on the incident. In the same year, Egyptian authorities notified the Israeli authorities that other smuggled relics were held in an antiques store in Jerusalem.

As a result, the Israel Antiquities Authority opened an investigation at their request, which led to the seizure of 91 archaeological items. 

During his one-day visit to Cairo, Lapid met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to discuss issues related to national security, such as reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and Iran’s goals to obtain a nuclear weapon.

“Egypt is an especially important strategic partner for Israel, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue between us,” Lapid said.

In the last years, Egypt has been focused on the repatriation of its internationally smuggled heritage. Its government saw persistent efforts to repatriate artifacts from the United Kingdom, Italy, France and the United States among other countries.

 In a session held at the end of November, Egypt was included as a contender for the UN’s latest draft resolution on the restitution of its heritage. 

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