Islamic heads urge new intifada over Temple Mount work

temple mount 224.88 (photo credit: Areil Jerozolimski [file])
temple mount 224.88
(photo credit: Areil Jerozolimski [file])
Islamic leaders on Tuesday called for a new wave of violence against Israel over the archeological excavation near the Temple Mount. The threats came as archaeologists pressed ahead with a salvage excavation in the archeological garden outside the Temple Mount ahead of the planned construction of a new bridge to the Mughrabi Gate. "The danger in Jerusalem has increased. It is high time for the intifada of the Islamic people," the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Raed Salah, told reporters near the holy site on Tuesday. "The continued Israeli aggression on Al-Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem require all Palestinians to unite and remember that our battle is with the occupation," said Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called on the Islamic world to intervene to halt the work. The bridge, which is being built under the auspices of Israel's Antiquities Authority, will replace the temporary bridge which has been constructed on the section of the Western Wall allocated for women's prayer after the original stone ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate was removed, having been deemed unsafe by city engineers. Israeli officials repeatedly emphasized Tuesday that the work under way at the site was outside the confines of the Temple Mount, and posed no danger to the mosque at the site. "The construction of the bridge, located in its entirety outside the Temple Mount, has no impact on the mount itself and certainly poses no danger to it," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said. "There is nothing on earth that can cause damage to the walls of the Temple Mount, and certainly not to any structures inside," said Dr. Gideon Avni, the director of excavations and surveys at the Israel Antiquities Authority. He said, however, that there was no cooperation with Islamic officials at the site over the issue. By law, Israel is required to carry out a 'salvage excavation' before any construction goes ahead in the country. More than half a dozen such excavations are underway in the Old City of Jerusalem at present. The decision over "when and how" to carry out the work near the Temple Mount has been going on for two years now, the Antiquities Authority archeologist said. Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco said Tuesday that the work would take eight months to complete. He added that 2,000 police were deployed in and around the Old City on Tuesday to maintain law and order. "It is clear to anyone who stands here that all the work is taking place outside the compound of the Temple Mount," Franco said in a briefing at the Western Wall plaza, where dozens of journalists had gathered, vastly outnumbering the half dozen workers taking part in the work Tuesday. One lone bulldozer could be seen Tuesday digging up dirt near the Western Wall plaza, while a small white tent in the archeological garden, guarded by a heavy police presence, housed about half a dozen workers taking part in the salvage excavation. In low-level skirmishes, dozens of Arab teens pelted police with stones in various locations throughout east Jerusalem. There were no injuries or damage reported. Eleven suspects were arrested by police for taking part in the violence, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. The Antiquities Authority was at pains Tuesday to explain why it decided not to support the existing ramp as some Israeli archeologists had proposed, or to use the existing route in building the new bridge. Israeli efforts to downplay the dig fell on deaf ears in the Arab public, with Arab media playing up the heated rhetoric of Islamic officials blasting the work. In a sign of continued tension over the issue, the Islamic Movement announced that it planned to hold a demonstration Friday against the excavations. There has never been any archeological excavations on the Temple Mount due to religious sensitivities. Late Tuesday, Jordan's King Abdullah II warned of the potential "negative" consequences for peace. Abdullah called the Israeli dig "a threat to the foundations of Al-Aksa mosque," according to a statement from the royal palace, The Associated Press reported. "These measures will lead to a climate that is not conducive to the success of efforts to put the Palestinian-Israeli peace process back on track," the king's statement said. The dig was welcomed by Israeli politicians on the Right as an innocuous and necessary move, and condemned by parliamentarians on the Left, as a dangerous threat to peace. MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List) warned that the excavations were likely to ignite a third intifada, which would include protests and conflict throughout the Arab and Muslim world. "The Israeli government is again provoking the Muslim world and the Palestinian people, and is not hesitating to ignite the region on behalf of irresponsible decisions," a-Sanaa said. Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin visited the sight of the excavations, where construction workers were reinforcing infrastructure on the Mugrabi Hill and said that "excavations at such a sensitive area without prior coordination are irresponsible and might have devastating consequences." "Everyone who remembers the consequences of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount and the opening of the Western Wall, is playing a dangerous game into the hands of extremists on the Palestinian side," added Beilin. MK Colette Avital (Labor) who heads the Jerusalem Lobby in the Knesset also called on the government to stop construction until the tensions were eased. Meanwhile, the government continued to defend the project, with Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni promising Tuesday that the excavation would not hurt any holy sites.