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Israel Seeks to Preserve Masada

June 14, 2004

JERUSALEM (AP) _ After withstanding a Roman assault nearly 2,000 years ago, the Masada desert mountain _ where Jewish rebels chose suicide over capture _ has begun crumbling under a harsh attack by Mother Nature.

Torrential rains last winter caused serious damage to Masada’s limestone facade. On Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Cabinet asked a ministerial team to come up with a plan for preserving the historic site.

The committee is to report to the Cabinet every year on the condition of the Judean Desert mountain, which was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 2002. The site overlooks the Dead Sea.

In A.D. 73, Roman soldiers surrounded the fortress, where some 900 Jews, rebelling against Roman rule, were holed up. The massive earth ramp the Romans constructed to get a battering ram in striking distance of the walls is still clearly visible.

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote that 10 of the surviving rebels decided on suicide rather than facing death or slavery.

The symbolism of Masada still looms large in Israel. Soldiers come to the mountain fortress at the start of their military training to pledge allegiance to the state. Boys celebrate coming-of-age rituals there.

This week, Masada will became part of a present-day battle.

On Tuesday, dozens of employees of the nearby towns of Arad and Dimona, led by their mayors, plan to hole up on the top of the mountain until the government meets their financial demands.

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