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Wakf Threatens Violence Over Planned Bridge to Temple Mt.

reprinted from The Jerusalem Post
Feb. 6, 2007

by Etgar Lefkovits

The planned construction of a new bridge to the Temple Mount through an archaeological garden, which has already sparked a tempest among senior Israeli archaeologists, has now triggered threats of violence from Islamic trust officials over excavations, officials said Monday.

The bridge, which is being built under the auspices of the Antiquities Authority, will replace the temporary bridge built on the section of the Western Wall allocated for women's prayer after the original stone ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate was removed, having been deemed unsafe by city engineers.

An Antiquities Authority salvage excavation currently underway at the archaeological garden adjacent to the Temple Mount ahead of construction of the new bridge has brought threats of violence from Wakf (Islamic trust) officials, who oppose to any archaeological excavation near the holy site.

"Israel, who today is playing with fire when it touches Al-Aksa, knows the consequences of this playing with fire," Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in Damascus.

"This is a very dangerous plan," Wakf director Adnan Husseini said, warning the excavation could lead to to violence.

According to decades-old regulations, Israel has overall security control on the Temple Mount, while the Wakf is charged with day-to-day administration there.

By law, Israel is required to carry out a "salvage excavation" before any construction at the site.

The new bridge, which has received a green light from both the city's planning committee and Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch, is slated to pass above the archaeological garden adjacent to the Western Wall, and will be supported by as many as eight pylons.

The garden, located outside the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, has been deemed one of the most significant archaeological parks in the world.

The planned new bridge has provoked strong criticism among Israeli archaeologists, who say it will inevitably damage antiquities, and should be scrapped.

"The only reason that this new route has been chosen is so that whoever wants to enter the Temple Mount will not approach the Western Wall plaza," said Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar.

She said there was no need for the bridge - which is now slated to run nearly triple its original planned length - to run through the archaeological garden, instead of via its original path.

Mazar, a leading Temple Mount expert who is also a fellow at Jerusalem's Shalem Center, said Antiquities Authority's decision to carry out the work instead of opposing it was "highly questionable."

"The simplest and most correct plan would simply have been to stay with the same route that existed for decades," said Prof. Ephraim Stern, the chairman of the Israeli Archaeological Council, whose recommendation was rejected by the authority.

The archaeologists said Wakf officials and extremists Muslim leaders were exploiting the whole issue - and not their debate over the bridge's exact routing, which would require an excavation in any case - to threaten violence.

The Antiquities Authority referred all queries on the issue to the Prime Minister's Office.

The Prime Minister's Office said the matter was being taken care of by professionals, in full coordination [with the government].

The original stone ramp, which was built after the Six Day War, and served as the point of entry for non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount, was badly damaged by an earthquake three years ago and by inclement weather.

After being deemed unsafe by city engineers, the ramp was removed and a new bridge was built that has cut the space for women's prayer at the Western Wall by more than a third.

The new bridge will restore the women's section to its original size.

Rabinovitch said the bridge's planned route was "the best option" available.

The haredi rabbi is opposed to Jews entering the Temple Mount, and is happy to distance the entryway to Judaism's holiest site from the Western Wall plaza.

Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit told officials and experts on Monday that "the continuos digging in that holy area is a big concern to Jordan, its king, people and government," a government spokesman said.

Spokesman Nasser Judeh told the official Petra news agency that Bakhit urged experts to "follow up the issue and use all diplomatic channels to avoid any threat which could harm the safety and the identify of Al-Aqsa mosque."

Jordan's lower house of Parliament also condemned the digging, saying, "Israel aims at changing Jerusalem status and erasing its Arab and Islamic features."

Meshaal Warns Against Continued Excavations

reprinted from Arutz 7
06:14 Feb 05, '07 / 17 Shevat 5767

( Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in a televised speech from Damascus on Sunday, warned that continued excavation in the "Al Aksa” area would lead to a new popular uprising. He was referring to the excavation of a Roman-era road stretching from the ancient City of David to the Temple Mount. Water used for Temple ceremonies was drawn from the Shiloah spring at the base of the city.

A visit to the Temple Mount, site of both ancient Jewish Temples, by Ariel Sharon in 2000 is widely believed to have started that year's uprising which began soon after former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat defied his advisors by not agreeing to the peace deal offered at Camp David.

During the expansion of the Al-Aksa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount, several years ago, tons of dirt were excavated and dumped outside the city. Diggers in the dumping site have found archaeological remains from both Temples.



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