UNESCO Mughrabi report due in days

Four-member team visited the site last week as part of Israeli "transparency."

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
March 8, 2007 21:18
1 minute read.
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A week after a group of UNESCO officials toured the contested Israeli archaeological dig under way outside Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the organization has still not published its findings, officials said Thursday. The routine salvage excavation, which began last month in the archeological garden adjacent to the Western Wall ahead of the planned construction of a new bridge to the Temple Mount, has triggered protests in the Arab world. The four-member UNESCO team which visited the site last week came to Jerusalem at Israel's invitation as part of its efforts to display "full transparency" over the dig, Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Osnat Guez said. The group made no statement after the visit. The dig has touched off low-level Arab violence in Jerusalem following assertions by Islamic leaders that the work, which is taking place dozens of meters outside the Temple Mount, could damage the mosque inside the ancient compound. The UNESCO team which visited the site of the excavation was shown the real-time, 24-hour video system set up by Israel there, which can be viewed around the world on the Internet. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said last month it was sending a "technical mission" to assess work at the excavation site, in a bid to help "alleviate tensions." The mission, which was led by the Director of UNESCO's World Heritage Center Francesco Bandarin, reported back to the Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, on its return to Paris last weekend. "The mission report, currently under preparation, will be presented to the director-general of UNESCO in the upcoming days. Thereafter, it will be made available to the Organization's Governing Bodies as well as the World Heritage Committee," UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams said Thursday. UNESCO, which had previously condemned the Israeli dig, had never spoken out against Islamic construction of a mosque on the grounds of the Temple Mount itself last decade, which Israel's top archeological body has termed an "unprecedented archeological crime" for its massive destruction of antiquities. The current dig began after the decades-old stone walkway leading to the complex was deemed unsafe after it was damaged by a rare snowstorm and a minor earthquake that rattled the region in 2004. Israeli law requires such an archeological excavation in advance of any construction in the Holy Land.

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