Orthodox Jews on the Temple Mount.
(photo credit: MENACHEM SHLOMO)
The stone that fell from the Western Wall earlier this week proves that Israel has devised a plan to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a spokesperson for the ruling Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claimed on Thursday.
An Israel Antiquities Authority crane on Wednesday removed the 200-kg. ashlar, which fell into the nearly-empty egalitarian plaza, also known as the “Ezrat Yisrael.” No one was hurt.
IAA archaeologists have yet to determine what caused the ancient stone to fall.
The Palestinians have since used the incident to revive their long-standing charge that Israel is planning to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque in order to rebuild the Third Temple.
Osama Qawassmeh, a spokesperson for Fatah, said on Thursday that the dislodging of the stone was a “dangerous sign of what was happening in the al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings” – a reference to the archaeological work that has been going on near the Temple Mount for decades in the site called the Davidson Center, the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.
“We affirm that al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings, including what is beneath it, are purely Islamic,” Qawassmeh said. “The Jews have no right to it.”
He said that visits by Jews to the Temple Mount, as well as Israeli archaeological excavations
“beneath” the compound, which Palestinians call al-Haram ash-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), are a “crime against all religions and a blatant violation of the sanctity of the religion of Islam.”
In the past few years, Palestinians have been strongly condemning visits by Jewish groups to the Temple Mount and say that “extremist Jewish settlers and radicals are storming al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Accusing Israel of working towards turning the Israeli conflict into a religious conflict, Qawassmeh said that Israel’s actions “emboldened and encouraged blind religious extremism.”
He also accused the Israeli government of plotting to “bury any prospect of coexistence in the region.”
Jerusalem, he added, is “purely Arab and Palestinian, and there can be no peace and stability without ending Israel’s occupation of the city.”
Omar Kiswani, director of al-Aqsa Mosque, also weighed in on the fall of the boulder, claiming it was the direct result of Israeli archaeological excavations. The Israeli authorities banned officials of the Waqf Department in Jerusalem from examining the area where the stone fell, he said.
The incident, Kiswani said, confirms the Waqf Department’s assertions that Israel is carrying out dangerous archaeological excavation work in the area of the Temple Mount. He called for dispatching an international committee to the area to probe Israel’s actions.
Yusef Natsheh, director of Islamic Archeology and Tourism at the Haram al-Sharif, claimed that the dislodging of the boulder was “not casual.”
“This is a dangerous incident,” Natsheh said. “It was most likely pre-planned. This could have been a balloon test or experiment to determine the direction of the excavation working the thickness of the walls of al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Natsheh said that the Waqf Department in particular and Muslims in general were very concerned about this incident.
The Waqf Department said on Wednesday that it has formed a “crisis team” to follow up on the incident.
The Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, and heads of the Waqf Department recently claimed that ongoing Israeli archaeological excavations “endangered” al-Aqsa Mosque.
Waqf Department director Azzam Al-Khatib voiced “deep concern” over the excavation works. He claimed that Israel was seeking to connect a series of tunnels under the Temple Mount, especially in the area of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park’s Umayyad palaces.
Khatib called on UNESCO to send a team to investigate Israel’s actions near the holy site.
On Tuesday, Jordan’s government spokeswoman, Jumana Ghneimat, expressed her country’s “absolute rejection of the Israeli authorities’ moving of the stone.” She said that the move “constitutes an interference in the jurisdiction of the (Jordanian-controlled) Waqf Department, which is the national body that has authority over all the affairs of al-Aqsa Mosque/the Haram al-Sharif under international law.”
Ghneimat too called on the international community to pressure Israel to “stop its violations against the holy sites in Jerusalem.” The Israeli government, she added, bears full responsibility for the safety of al-Aqsa Mosque with its facilities.”
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