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Police have raided apartments across Berlin and detained three people suspected of involvement in a jewel heist at a museum housing one of Europe’s greatest collections of treasures.

Thieves forced their way into the Grünes Gewölbe or Green Vault Museum in Dresden in November last year and got away with at least three sets of early 18th-century jewellery, including diamonds and rubies.

Police searched 18 apartments, garages and vehicles in Berlin early on Tuesday morning for the jewellery and other evidence including digital data, clothes and tools, mostly in the city’s southern district of Neukölln, police said.

A total of 1,638 officers were taking part in the operation, which could cause serious traffic disruptions through the day, they added.

Three Germans were arrested on suspicion of theft and arson and will appear before an investigating judge later in the morning, the police said. The force said the arrests took place in different parts of the country, without giving details.

Security camera footage showed two men breaking into the museum through a grilled window in the early hours of 25 November 2019. Officers were on the scene five minutes after the alarm sounded, but the thieves escaped.

The stolen jewels were worth up to €1bn (£900m), Bild newspaper reported at the time, without giving a source. It said a nearby electricity junction box had been set on fire, cutting the power supply to the whole area before the heist.

The collection was amassed in the 18th century by Augustus the Strong, elector of Saxony and later king of Poland, who commissioned ever more brilliant jewellery as part of his rivalry with King Louis XIV of France.

One of its best-known treasures – the 41-carat Dresden “Green Diamond” – was on loan at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art at the time of the break-in.

The treasures of the Green Vault survived allied bombing raids during the second world war, only to be seized by the Soviet Union. They were returned to Dresden, the historic capital of the state of Saxony, in 1958.

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