Room at Mughrabi under examination

Antiquities authority spokesman: We did not confirm finding Muslim prayer niche.

Mughrabi cool 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Mughrabi cool 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Israel Antiquities Authority on Sunday denied an earlier report that the site of the Israeli archaeological dig at the Mughrabi Gate near Jerusalem's Temple Mount contained a Muslim prayer room. An Israel Antiquities Authority spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that "we did in fact find room three years ago but we didn't have permission to dig at the site. Now that we have permission, we are going to try and identify what this room is." Muslim leaders and critics of the work had said the announcement of the find confirmed their fears that the authority was intent on hiding Muslim attachment to the site. Israel began work nearly two weeks ago on the Mughrabi ramp leading to the Temple Mount. Israel says the project is needed to repair damage to the ramp caused by a 2004 snowstorm, and the dig won't affect Muslim holy sites on the nearby hilltop compound. However, Muslim leaders accuse Israel of plotting to destroy Islamic holy places. The spokesman denied that Jerusalem district archaeologist Yuval Baruch had released a statement in which he described the ruins that were discovered after the snowstorm three years ago as containing an alcove covered with a dome, a kind of Muslim prayer niche. The spokesman denied that Baruch had told the The Associated Press that the authority decided not to reveal the existence of the room sooner since it still is not clear what it was. He said finds in and around the room need further research before authorities can say exactly what the room was used for. Adnan Hussein, chairman of the Muslim council that oversees affairs at the holy site had expressed anger that Israel withheld news of the discovery for three years. "We didn't hear anything about this," he said. "They are always hiding things." The archaeological dig is taking place about 60 meters away from the Temple Mount. The renovation has sparked nearly daily protests by Palestinians, and generated fierce criticism from throughout the Muslim world. There has been no serious violence so far, but the site has been the focus of deadly fighting in the past and its status constitutes one of the main obstacles in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.