Arab MK: Work at Temple Mount May Cause New Intifada
reprinted from Arutz 7
(IsraelNN.com) Arab Knesset Member Mohamed Barakeh has warned the government that continuing the archaeological digging at the Temple Mount by "the government of occupation" may ignite a third Intifada. He called the work a "crime."
Right wing activist Baruch Marzel replied, "I call on the police to arrest the Muslims who incite and call for an Intifada. If rabbis were making such comments, there is no doubt that the police already would have arrested them."
MK Gideon Sa'ar, Likud faction leader, said earlier statements by Labor and Mertz MKs calling for a halt to the work are irresponsible and serve the interests of Hamas.
Livni: Excavations Won't Harm Temple Mount
reprinted from Arutz 7
(IsraelNN.com) Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni refuted Muslim claims that excavations underneath the Mograbi Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem" will destroy the Gate and damage the Temple Mount itself.
Violent Muslim worshippers gathered at the site Tuesday, throwing rocks to protest the excavations which will strengthen the support columns which hold up the current bridge.
"The works at the Temple Mount are not harming, are not meant to harm and will not harm the holy sites," said Livni after her meeting Tuesday afternoon with British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett.
The work is part of a plan to build a new walkway from the Dung Gate to the Mograbi Gate. The Mograbi Gate is the main entrance to the Temple Mount.
Jordan Slams Israel on Temple Mount Repairs
reprinted from Arutz 7
(IsraelNN.com) Jordanian King Abdullah II slammed Israel's excavations at the Mughrabi Gate on Tuesday.
The Hashemite king accused Israel of attacking sacred Muslim sites in Jerusalem an al-Aksa, calling the excavations "a blatant violation that is not acceptable under any pretext," according to the Petra news agency.
The work is being carried out as part of a project to strengthen four columns that support the walkway bridge into the main entrance to the Temple Mount.
Islamic Heads Call for Violence Over Work by Temple Mount
reprinted from The Jerusalem Post
In a new showdown, Islamic leaders on Tuesday called for a new wave of violence against Israel over a contested Israeli archaeological excavation near the Temple Mount.
The threats came as Israeli archaeologists pressed ahead with a three-week-old salvage excavation in the archaeological garden outside the Temple Mount ahead of the planned construction of a new bridge to the Mughrabi Gate.
"The danger in Jerusalem has increased. It is high time for the intifada of the Islamic people," the fiery leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel Raed Salah told reporters near the holy site on Tuesday.
"The continued Israeli aggression on Al Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem require all Palestinians to unite and remember that our battle is with the occupation," said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
The bridge, which is being built under the auspices of Israel's Antiquities Authority, will replace the temporary bridge which has been constructed 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.
Israeli officials repeatedly emphasized Tuesday that the work underway at the site was outside the confines of the Temple Mount, and posed no danger to the mosque at the site.
"The construction of the bridge, located in its entirety outside the Temple Mount, has no impact on the Mount itself and certainly poses no danger to it," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said.
"There is nothing on earth that can cause damage to the walls of the Temple Mount, and certainly not to any structures inside," said Dr. Gideon Avni, the director of excavations and surveys at the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
He noted however that there was no cooperation with Islamic officials at the site over the issue.
According to decades-old regulation in place at the Temple Mount, Israel maintains overall security control at the site, while the Wakf, or Islamic Trust, is charged with day- to-day administration of the ancient compound.
By law, Israel is required to carry out a 'salvage excavation' before any construction goes ahead in the country. More than half a dozen such excavations are underway in the Old City of Jerusalem at present.
The decision over "when and how" to carry out the work near the Temple Mount has been going on for two years now, the Antiquities Authority archaeologist said.
Jerusalem Police chief Ilan Franco said Tuesday that the work would take eight months to complete.
He added that 2000 police were deployed in and around the Old City on Tuesday to maintain law and order.
"It is clear to anyone who stands here that all the work is taking place outside the compound of the Temple Mount," Franco said in a briefing at the Western Wall plaza, where dozens of journalists had gathered to watch the work.
In low-level skirmishes, dozens of Arab teens pelted police with stones in various locations throughout east Jerusalem.
There were no injuries or damage reported.
11 suspects were arrested by police for taking part in the violence, Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
Earlier Tuesday, police had barred non-Muslims from entering the Temple Mount and restricted Muslim entry to the holy site to men over the age of 45 in a largely successful effort to ward off violence at the compound for the day.
The new bridge, which has received a green light from both the city's planning committee and the blessing of the rabbi of the Western Wall, is slated to tower above the archaeological garden adjacent to the Western Wall, and will be supported by as many as eight pylons in the archaeological garden.
The garden, located outside the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, has been deemed one of the most significant archaeological parks in Israel and the world.
The original stone ramp, which was built after the Six Day War in 1967, and served as the point of entry for non-Muslim visitors entering the Temple Mount, was badly damaged during an earthquake that rattled that region three years ago and by inclement wintry weather.
After being deemed unsafe by city engineers, the strategically-placed ramp was removed and a new temporary bridge was built next to it, which has cut off the allocated space for women's prayer at the Western Wall by more than one-third.
The Antiquities Authority was at pains Tuesday to explain why it decided not to support the existing ramp as some Israeli archaeologists had proposed, or to use the existing route in building the new bridge.
The Temple Mount, which is Judaism's holiest and Islam's third holiest site, has been the scene of violence in the past, which later spilled out across the country.
Israel's opening of the Western Wall tunnels in 1996 was followed by a wave of Palestinian violence that killed 80 people, while Ariel Sharon's 2000 visit to the Temple Mount as opposition leader was followed by the latest round of Palestinian violence that has continued for over six years.
Israeli efforts to downplay the dig near the bitterly contested holy site - known as the tinderbox of the Middle East - fell on deaf ears in the Arab public, with Arab media playing up the heated rhetoric of Islamic officials blasting the work.
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.
The latest controversy comes as an ancient wooden pulpit destroyed four decades ago by a deranged Australian tourist hoping to hasten the coming of the Messiah was restored in the El Aksa Mosque, and as Jordan presses ahead with plans to build a fifth minaret at the site.
Last decade, Wakf officials built the largest mosque in Israel in an underground architectural support of the Temple Mount known as the Solomon's Stables.
The construction of the mosque, which was carried out without any archaeological supervision, was later called an "unprecedented archaeological crime" by Israel's top archaeological body.
Israel begins Temple Mount Renovation
reprinted from The Jerusalem Post
Under heavy police guard, Israeli workers began a dig Tuesday at a centuries-old walkway in Temple Mount, a holy site disputed by Muslims and Jews, a spokesman said.
Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police were stationed in alleys throughout the Old City and at the entrances to the disputed compound "to thwart any attempt to disrupt order."
Police also restricted access to the site. Only women and men over 45 years old and holding Israeli identity cards would be allowed on the Temple Mount compound.
"We have begun the work in preparation for the salvage dig that is supposed to start here in the coming days in the framework of the renovation of the Mughrabi Bridge," Yuval Baruch, the Antiquities Authority's chief archaeologist for the Jerusalem region, told Israel Radio.
Officials said Monday that the planned construction of the new bridge, which has already sparked a tempest among senior Israeli archaeologists, has now triggered threats of violence from Islamic trust officials over excavations.
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.
"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 identity of Al-Aqsa mosque."
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