Wednesday, January 04, 2006

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement of Israeli Arabs are claiming that Israel is digging under the Al-Aqsa Mosque and undermining it. Here's the Jerusalem Post article:
Israel denies Temple Mount excavation

Israel dismissed as "blatant lies" and "preposterous and unfounded allegations" claims voiced by the top Muslim religious authority in Jerusalem and the firebrand leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel Tuesday that Israel built a synagogue and was trying to destroy a mosque on the Temple Mount by its recently-completed construction of a visitor's center near the Western Wall.


This UPI article has the clearest account of what is actually going on:
'Israel digging under Al-Aksa,' or not


JERUSALEM, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Muslim leaders Tuesday accused Israel of digging underneath Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. The site, one of Islam's holiest, is in danger, they said.

Israeli officials categorically denied the claims and this reporter who visited the alleged underground site saw no evidence of a dig towards the mosque.


At a press conference in Jerusalem, Tuesday, the Al Aksa Foundation presented a file and discs containing pictures and a film of "Excavation being done underneath the Aksa Mosque."

Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, the Mosque's director, told the conference that the Israeli government has endorsed the excavation and that Israel is planning to destroy Al Aksa Mosque and replace it with the third Jewish temple. Ekrima Sa'eed Sabri, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, declared the works violate Al Aksa's sanctity that stretches from the bottom of the land to the sky above it.

Here is the UPI reporter's account of the actual situation:
This reporter joined a small group of soldiers guided through part of the tunnels. The mockup described at the press conference as a model of the third temple was actually an artist's reconstruction of the Second Temple King Herod had built in 516 BC and the Romans destroyed in 70 CE. That is 568 years before the Muslims arrived. It was part of a talk on what happened on that mount.

The alleged tunnel was actually a glass-topped shaft showing how deep the wall goes.

After the tour this reporter went, unaccompanied, up to the northern edge of the tunnel. He saw a small dark dig behind a black-padlocked iron gate door but the works there seemed to support the overhead construction and lead north, along the ancient wall, not east towards the Temple Mount/al Aksa area.

The path skirted what emerged as cave. A climb to the entrance showed two ladders and an empty water bottle but no works leading across the wall. At another spot this reporter climbed over a barrier to a plank leading to a lower level but there, too, there was no signs of penetration eastwards.

An employee accompanied this reporter to a southern, closed section, where workers were replacing the floor tiles. Usually worshippers prayed there, facing the Western Wall. Through a hole in a door he saw part of the tunnel he had visited moments earlier and was convinced he had covered the entire length of the wall.

There's also a brief and not very informative AP article. And for more on the visitor's center and the tunnel excavation, see here and here. Also, this claim about tunnels undermining the Al-Aqsa Mosque have been around for a while.

UPDATE: This article from the Muslim News, UK, which gives a fair summary of the situation, has just popped up on Google. It is related to (a toned-down version of?) this piece on, which is attributed to Al-Jazeera. And the Journal of Turkish Weekly presents the Palestinian propaganda undiluted.

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