JORDAN: DIG AT AL-AQSA MOSQUE WORSENING MIDEAST TENSIONS

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

Last update – 18:40 06/02/2007
By Haaretz Service and News Agencies

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday said that Israeli excavation works near the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem has led to a dangerous rise in Middle East tensions and could derail revival of Arab-Israeli peace talks.

“What Israel is doing in its practices and attacks against our sacred Muslim sites in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa is a blatant violation that is not acceptable under any pretext,” the monarch was quoted by the state news agency Petra as saying.

“These measures will only create an atmosphere that will not at all help in the success of efforts being undertaken to restore the peace process,” the monarch said.

“This is a dangerous escalation we have seen in the last few hours … these works and excavations pose a threat to the foundations of al-Aqsa,” he added

Police on Tuesday arrested four Muslim worshipers who threw stones at the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation underneath Mugrabi gate in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The dig as part of a plan to rebuild the Mugrabi bridge walkway planned to run from the Dung gate to the Mugrabi gate, which serves as the primary entrance to the compound referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as al-Haram al-Sherif, the Noble Sanctuary.

The digging will use smaller excavating tools, and will be supervised by a team of archaeologists. The excavations are intended to strengthen the support columns of the Mugrabi bridge.

The four additional columns to be built will be located on the grounds of the “Archaeological Garden” next to the Dung Gate.

The project will replace the temporary wooden bridge built after the collapse of the previous ramp in 2004.

The Islamic Movement announced on Tuesday that it planned to hold a demonstration Friday against the excavations.

MK Talab El-Sana (United Arab List) warned on Tuesday that the excavations are likely to ignite a third intifada, that will include protests and conflict throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

“The Israeli government is again provoking the Muslim world and the Palestinian people, and is not hesitating to ignite the region on behalf of irresponsible decisions,” El-Sana said.

According to El-Sana, the government is trying to “deflect attention away from their failures in the war in Lebanon.”

Head of the northern branch of the Islamic movement Sheik Ra’ad Salah, and the head of Jerusalem’s Supreme Muslim Council Ikrima Sabri called this week for all Muslims in Israel to flock to the Temple Mount complex to prevent Israel from actions that they say are meant to destroy the Mugrabi Gate.

In response, Police on Tuesday decided to restrict access to the Temple Mount and deployed security forces throughout the Old City of Jerusalem. Police fear that violent protest, specifically by members of the Israeli Islamic Movement, may break out in the city and have restricted all men under the age of 45 from Tuesday’s prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. All Jews and tourists are also forbidden from the compound as part of the restrictions.

Jerusalem area Archaeologist Yuval Baruch stated that there is no intention to dig underneath the Temple Mount or to cause any damage to the Western Wall of the Mount. A source at the Israel Antiquities Authority stated today that “The incitement occurring in the Muslim world over the excavations is merely an attempt to twist a non-political act into something religious and divisive.”

“The excavations are being carried out according to procedure by a team of professional archaeologists and experts,” the source added.

In recent weeks, militant Islamic leaders have warned that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is under threat from the excavation. They have urged followers to mobilize to block Israeli work near the compound.

MK Talab El-Sana (United Arab List) warned on Tuesday that the excavations are likely to ignite a third intifada, which will include protests and conflict throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

“The Israeli government is again provoking the Muslim world and the Palestinian people, and is not hesitating to ignite the region on behalf of irresponsible decisions,” El-Sana said.

According to El-Sana, the government is trying to “deflect attention away from their failures in the war in Lebanon.”

Head of the northern branch of the Islamic movement Sheik Ra’ad Salah, and the head of Jerusalem’s Supreme Muslim Council Ikrima Sabri called this week for all Muslims in Israel to flock to the Temple Mount complex to prevent Israel from actions that they say are meant to destroy the Mugrabi Gate.

Mohammed Hussein, the top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, told the Gaza Strip radio station of the Hamas militant movement that ‘what is happening is an aggression, We call on the Palestinian people to unite and unify the efforts to protect Jerusalem.’

Adnan Husseini, the director of the Islamic Waqf, the trust that oversees that complex, said he was concerned the new walkway could damage the original earthen ramp, which he said was Waqf property and contained ruins of archaeological significance. The new construction constituted a violation of the site, he said.

This is a very dangerous project that will damage things of great historical value in this very sensitive place, Husseini said.

Husseini said he suspected that the excavations around the holy site were attempts to tunnel under it – a common allegation among Muslims, though one never substantiated – and demanded that Israel cease all digs immediately.

We call for an end to all excavations, he said.

Jordan, which has a custodial role over the site, has repeatedly expressed concern about the work there, according to the kingdom’s official Petra news agency.

Jordanian government spokesman Nasser Judeh quoted Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit Sunday as saying that the dig was a big concern to Jordan, its king, people and government, Petra reported.

The site is part of east Jerusalem, which was ruled by Jordan until Israel captured it and the adjacent West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.

In 1988, the current’s king’s father, King Hussein, renounced his country’s claim to the West Bank, but maintained Jordan’s authority to look after the mosques – a custodial role that Israel recognizes.

Jerusalem area Archaeologist Yuval Baruch stated that there is no intention to dig underneath the Temple Mount or to cause any damage to the Western Wall of the Mount. A source at the Israel Antiquities Authority stated today that “The incitement occurring in the Muslim world over the excavations is merely an attempt to twist a non-political act into something religious and divisive.”

“The excavations are being carried out according to procedure by a team of professional archaeologists and experts,” the source added.

Israeli officials have denied the allegations, saying that the charges are a ploy by Palestinians to help quell Fatah-Hamas infighting.

In a attempt to diffuse tension, Israeli authorities barred Jews and tourists from visiting the Temple Mount on Tuesday. In addition, 2,000 police were deployed in and around the Old City to maintain order, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Authorities also limited entry to the compound to Muslim worshippers 45 years of age or older, who carry Israeli identification cards showing them to be residents of the city’s eastern half.


Meshal condemns digs

The leader of Hamas Sunday condemned excavations by Israeli archaeologists near the Al-Aqsa mosque and warned they were “playing with fire.”

“I have a stern warning for the enemy,” Khaled Meshal said at a news conference in the Syrian capital.

“Sharon’s desecration of the Aqsa sparked the 2000 uprising. The Israeli leadership must learn from this lesson. We have confidence in our people, its masses, all of its groups and military wings,” he added.

The Palestinian uprising erupted in September 2000 after a visit, condemned in the Arab world, by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the mosque compound in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied and annexed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. “Israel knows what its violation of the holy Aqsa will bring. It is playing with fire,” Meshal said.

In the 1980s, Israel uncovered a plot by a group of Jews to blow up Al-Aqsa in the hope that a new Jewish temple could be built at the site.

Muslim scholars say the excavations violate Aqsa’s sanctity. Israeli officials say the work would not harm the structure of the mosque, which dates from the 7th century.

“We are facing a dangerous action. Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites are dear to all Palestinians. Israel is trying to take advantage of the Palestinian internal conflict to commit its crimes,” Meshal said.

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