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(photo credit: Courtesy)
A group of Israeli archeologists on Monday renewed their blistering condemnation of the Antiquities Authority for authorizing Muslim officials to carry out a dig on Jerusalem's Temple Mount with tractors and other heavy equipment as part of infrastructure work to repair faulty electrical lines on the ancient compound.
The work started last month on the northern section of the Temple Mount in the area of the outer courts of the ancient Jewish Temples with the approval of the Israel Police and the state-run Antiquities Authority, Israeli and Islamic officials said. Independent Israeli archeologists said that the work left a 100-meter-long and roughly 1-1.5 meter deep trench, and has damaged the site.
"This is a barbaric action on the most sensitive place in archeology of the Jewish nation," said Bar-Ilan University archeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai, a member of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.
Barkai said that work carried out at the site on Monday - which eyewitnesses say was done with an Antiquties Authority official present - was the most damaging to date.
"If this was done with the Antiquities Authority supervision it is even worse, because the crime was done before our very eyes," he added.
The non-partisan group of Israeli archeologists and intellectuals from across the political spectrum has previously lambasted Israel's chief archeological body for permitting the work at the site but Monday's damage prompted them to issue their harshest criticism of the state-run archeological body to date.
"It is outrageous that the Antiquities Authority is taking part in an archeological crime by pretending they are supervising the site while they are in fact witnessing the crime as it takes place," said group spokeswoman Dr. Eilat Mazar, a leading Temple Mount expert.
Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Dalit Menzin declined to comment on the issue.
According to decades-old regulations 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. Jerusalem police have said that in coordination with the Antiquities Authority they had given Islamic officials approval for the work.
Wakf director Azzam Khatib said that the work followed an electrical shortage in the al Aksa Mosque.
The Antiquities Authority, which by law is charged with supervising Israel's archeological sites, has in the past been criticized by the apolitical group of archeologists for overlooking large-scale Islamic construction on the site which resulted in archeological damage because of the political sensitivities involved.