- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - A 33-year-old Gaza man says he has been duped into selling a valuable work by British graffiti artist Banksy for less than $200 to a local artist.

The popular street artist is believed to have sneaked into Gaza earlier this year, leaving behind four murals, including one drawn on a metal door that depicted the Greek goddess Niobe cowering against the rubble of a destroyed house. The painting, titled “Bomb Damage,” was drawn on a door, the last remaining part of a two-story house belonging to the Dardouna family in northern Gaza.

Unaware of the work’s value, Rabie Dardouna said Tuesday he was tricked into selling the door to an eager local artist for just 700 shekels, or about $175. Banksy’s works have been valued as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“I did not know that it was this valuable. I heard it can be sold for millions,” Dardouna said. “Now I want the door back.”

Dardouna said he didn’t even know who the British artist was and initially didn’t pronounce Banksy’s name correctly.

The Gaza artist who bought the door, Belal Khaled, said he did not mean to trick anyone. He said he just wanted to protect the painting and had no intention of profiting.

“I bought the painting to protect its artistic value and preserve it from damage,” Khaled told The Associated Press. “Another reason is to display it in other places as well. I don’t have any monetary interest in this.”

He said he has been in touch with Banksy’s representatives, hoping to get a clearance to showcase the mural in Gaza art exhibits.

The debate over the issue has heated up on Facebook, with Palestinian activists and journalists accusing the buyer of tricking the Dardounas while others have defended him for buying it legally. Khaled agreed to show reporters the mural on condition that its location not be revealed.

The Dardouna home was one of 18,000 destroyed in the 50-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers last summer. Banksy is a critic of Israel and he has created works in Gaza and the West Bank meant to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians.

Other Banksy works spotted in Gaza after the mystery visit were a mural of a playful kitten and of children swinging from a military watchtower.

Banksy publicist Jo Brooks said at the time that the artist entered Gaza through a tunnel from Egypt, though such a route is extremely difficult and dangerous.

On a previous visit to the region he drew a painting of a girl pulled upward by balloons on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.

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