Turkish officials denied reports on an Israeli website that the country would return an ancient inscription brought to Turkey from eastern Jerusalem during Ottoman rule.
On Friday, the Times of Israel website reported that Turkey had agreed to return the 2,700-year-old Siloam inscription to Israel as a gesture during Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara, the first in years.
The artifact, currently in Istanbul Archaeological Museum, is viewed as one of the oldest and most important Hebrew inscriptions in existence.
Turkish diplomatic sources speaking to local media outlets said the claim was “false.” Israeli media outlets said that Tel Aviv had repeatedly sought the return of the artifact in the past but had always been rejected, including once in 2017, when then culture minister Miri Regev offered “two elephants” for a Turkish zoo in return for the inscription.
Diplomatic sources told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Sunday that east Jerusalem, where the inscription was found in 1880, was part of Ottoman territories back then and it is currently a part of Palestinian territories; thus, it was out of the question to return it to Israel, a third country in Turkey's view. Israel is at odds with the Palestinian administration over the control of East Jerusalem and the decision of the United States and several other countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem, in a move to recognize it as Israel’s capital, which stirred up outcry in Turkey.
The inscription is a text recording the work to construct a tunnel between Pool of Siloam and the City of David during the reign of King Hezekiah, a ruler of Jerusalem according to Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. An important artifact for archaeology in the region including Israel, the inscription was brought to Müze-i Hümayun (Imperial Museum – the predecessor of Istanbul Archaeological Museum). It was registered as property of the Ottoman Empire and under legal status belongs to the Republic of Turkey.