For the first time, the Israel Antiquities Authority has installed a webcam at an archeological site in an effort to defuse religious tensions caused by a dig. Three cameras installed at the Mughrabi Gate Reconstruction Project - which adjoins both the Western Wall Plaza and the Temple Mount in the Old City - went on line February 15. Every 10 seconds the view switches from the upper part of the controversial ramp to the lower part, and then into the excavation tent. The ongoing work is taking place Sunday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. "We have nothing to hide. Whoever wants to come to the Web site can see what is going on in the excavation area," Liat Eizenkot of the IAA told In Jerusalem. The unprecedented installation of the cameras came about at the request of the Prime Minister's Office, she explained. The Web site, http://www.antiquities.org.il/home-eng.asp, has received nearly 200,000 hits since its webcam went live two weeks ago, said IAA spokeswoman Osnat Goaz. Of the cyber-visitors, 33 percent came from the United States and 17% from Israel. Among the digital viewers were 1,451 people from Egypt, 945 from Saudi Arabia and two from the Vatican. The IAA English-language Web site includes two essays about the salvage project by IAA director of surveys and excavations Dr. Gideon Avni, entitled "The Real Story Behind the Mughrabi Ramp" and "Why Must Excavations be Conducted Next to the Temple Mount?" While the webcam has contributed to transparency about what is happening at the site and helped belie the claim that the dig will undermine or destabilize the Aksa Mosque, work there continues to be a source of controversy. On Monday MK Abbas Zakour (United Arab List) asked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to halt the excavations. Zakour toured the dig with IAA officials, and was shown a mihrab - a niche facing south to Mecca to indicate the direction Muslims should face when praying - unearthed in the excavation under the ramp. The Temple Mount reopened February 22 to Jewish visitors for the first time in more than three weeks, and a number of groups visited the site. In 2004 municipal engineers ordered the Mughrabi Gate ramp closed for fears of collapse after damage caused by an earthquake. The temporary bridge built at that point subsequently also become unstable. The current salvage dig is being carried out before construction can begin on a new and permanent bridge - which will allow visitors to ascend to the mount from a walkway beginning just inside the Dung Gate. While the Temple Mount has nine historic gates that are not blocked up, the Wakf only permits non-Muslims to enter through the Mughrabi Gate. The gate takes its name from the former Mughrabi Quarter which was bulldozed in June 1967, shortly after the IDF reunited Jerusalem during the Six Day War.

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin

Think others should know about this? Please share