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Divisive dig near Jerusalem holy site to proceed

An Israeli archaeological dig near Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque will continue, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said on Tuesday, despite a freeze on plans to build a walkway to the compound housing the shrine.
/ Source: Reuters

An Israeli archaeological dig near Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque will continue, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said on Tuesday, despite a freeze on plans to build a walkway to the compound housing the shrine.

The Haaretz newspaper’s Web site had reported the Jewish Quarter Development Company, a government agency, had withdrawn its request for a permit to build a pedestrian bridge to the complex known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount.

The report said that as a result, the search for ancient artifacts -- a dig mandated by Israeli law at many construction sites in the Holy Land -- would be called off.

Olmert’s office and the Israeli Antiquities Authority denied that the dig, which touched off Arab protests and raised Muslim fears al-Aqsa would be harmed, would be halted.

“The archaeological salvage dig which started last week, as a first stage on the way to constructing the new bridge, will continue as planned,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin said.

Public review
Israel denies any harm would come to the mosque or the Dome of the Rock that stand on the site of two destroyed biblical Jewish Temples.

Jerusalem’s Israeli mayor announced on Monday the walkway project would be suspended, pending a public review that would give critics a chance to voice their opposition to the work.

The director of the Jewish Quarter Development Company told Israel Radio the agency had withdrawn its request for a building permit pending the outcome of the hearings into the project.

Israeli officials have said the archaeological dig, about 50 yards from the compound overlooking Judaism’s Western Wall, would go on for at least eight months and no work on a walkway would be done until the excavations were completed.

The ramp leading up to the complex was damaged in a snowstorm and in an earthquake in 2004 and Olmert has said the structure is dangerous and must be replaced.