Word of the remarkable find has caught the imagination of the world of archaeology, but the police cannot say when the life-sized bronze might re-emerge or where it might be put on display.
A local fisherman says he scooped the 500kg (1,100lb) god from the seabed last August, and carried it home on a donkey cart, unaware of the significance of his catch.
Others soon guessed at its importance, and the statue briefly appeared on eBay with a $500,000 (£300,000) price tag – well below its true value. Police from the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the isolated Palestinian territory, swiftly seized it and say they are investigating the affair.
Archaeologists have not been able to get their hands on the Apollo – to their great frustration- and instead must pore over a few blurred photographs of the intact deity, who is laid out incongruously on a blanket emblazoned with Smurfs.
From what they can tell, it was cast sometime between the 5th and the 1st century BC, making it at least 2,000 years old.
“It’s unique. In some ways I would say it is priceless. It’s like people asking what is the [value] of the painting La Gioconda [the Mona Lisa] in the Louvre museum,” said Jean-Michel de Tarragon, a historian with the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem.
“It’s very, very rare to find a statue which is not in marble or in stone, but in metal,” he told Reuters television.
The apparently pristine condition of the god suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, he said, speculating that the true location of where it was unearthed was not revealed to avoid arguments over ownership.
“This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea … it is very clean. No, it was [found] inland and dry,” he said, adding that there were no signs of metal disfigurement or barnacles that one normally sees on items plucked from water.
The discoloured green-brown figure shows the youthful, athletic god standing upright on two, muscular legs; he has one arm outstretched, with the palm of his hand held up.
He has compact, curly hair, and gazes out seriously at the world, one of his eyes apparently inlaid with a blue stone iris, the other just a vacant black slit.
Officials at Gaza’s tourism ministry told Reuters the statue would not be shown to the public until a criminal investigation into who tried to sell it was completed.