Israeli anger over holy site work
By Martin Asser
A group of Israeli archaeologists is protesting about fresh excavations at Jerusalem's holiest religious shrine, saying it threatens priceless relics.
Muslim authorities at al-Aqsa mosque, also venerated by Jews as the Temple Mount, are digging a 150-metre trench for water pipes and electricity cables.
Israeli critics say the work is causing irreparable damage, indiscriminately piling up earth and carved stones.
...Jewish tradition reveres the area as the remains of King Solomon's temple, while Muslim tradition has it as the location of the Prophet Muhammad's ascent into heaven.
...The Waqf resumed working this week, using a mechanical digger on a metre-deep trench, cutting through the subsoil and piling it up beside the trench.
Israeli archaeologists say such material should be carefully sifted and documented, as it would be even at sites of far less significance than this most sensitive cultural and religious location.
Gabriel Barkai of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount calls it an act of barbarism..."They should be using a toothbrush, not a bulldozer."
...He accuses the Islamic authorities of wanting to "show who is the boss" by destroying Jewish remains in al-Aqsa mosque.
He also lambastes the Israeli Antiquities Authority, meant to supervise any work at archaeological sites, for apparently giving the work legitimacy.
Yusuf Natsheh of the Islamic Waqf dismisses such claims..."We regret some Israeli groups try to use archaeology to achieve political ends," Dr Natsheh told the BBC.
"But their rules of archaeology do not apply to the Haram (compound); it is a living religious site in an occupied land."
...As far as Dr Natsheh is concerned the Israeli government has no authority over what is happening, as the Muslim authorities do not recognise its legitimacy in the occupied territory. "We inform the Israeli police about what we intend to do, and then go ahead, so they have no excuse to prevent us," he says.