UNESCO: Dig not harming Temple Mt.

Report calls on Israel to suspend work to allow for international observation.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The UNESCO report on the controversial Antiquities Authority excavation near the Temple Mount has concluded that it is not damaging the holy site. Nevertheless, the report calls on Israel to suspend the dig to allow for international observation, Israeli officials said on Tuesday. The report is expected to be presented to UNESCO's director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, on Wednesday. The report, which was compiled by a four-member team that visited the site last month, finds that the excavation was being done with complete transparency, and in no way damages the Temple Mount, according to Israeli officials. At the same time, the report concludes that Israel should have consulted with all relevant parties ahead of the dig - referring to UNESCO and the Wakf (Islamic trust) that administers the Mount. Both the Foreign Ministry and the Antiquities Authority deferred comment on the report until its official publication. Israeli officials who have seen the document said it sent a very "mixed message," in that the findings were supportive of Israel and the conclusions were to the contrary. UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams said on Tuesday the organization would have no comment on the report before an executive board meeting that starts on April 10. 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's Mughrabi Gate, has triggered protests throughout the Muslim world. The dig 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 Mount, could damage the Al-Aksa mosque on the Mount. The UNESCO technical team members who visited the excavation were shown the real-time 24 hour video system set up by Israel at the site, which can be viewed on the Internet. The dig began after the decades-old stone walkway leading to the Temple Mount was deemed unsafe after it was damaged by a snowstorm and a minor earthquake in 2004. Israeli law requires such an archeological excavation in advance of any construction. The UNESCO team came to Jerusalem at the invitation of the State of Israel as part of its efforts to display "full transparency" over the dig.