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Associated Press – August 29, 2007
JERUSALEM – Israeli archaeologists on Wednesday criticized the extension of an underground cable at Jerusalem’s holiest site for Muslims and Jews, saying that digging the trench defies professional standards for such a sensitive historic site and could damage Bible-era relics.
Islamic authorities responsible for the Al Aqsa Mosque complex, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, said the digging is necessary infrastructure work at the site to replace 40-year-old electrical cables ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The site is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is home to Al Aqsa Mosque and the gold-capped Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third-holiest shrine. It is also the holiest site in Judaism: Archaeological finds show that the remains of the temples are beneath the mosque compound, although Muslim clerics dispute that.
The Public Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, a group of Israeli archaeologists, said using a tractor to dig a trench – said to be 500 yards long and up to 5 feet deep – is “not archaeology but destruction.”
Eilat Mazar, a member of the committee, said the infrastructure work using heavy machinery and with little documentation can damage ancient relics and erase evidence of the presence of the biblical structures.
Mazar said any excavation, even if for technical reasons, must be documented, photographed and the dirt sifted for any remains of relics.
Yusuf Natsheh, an antiquities official in the Waqf, the Muslim authority responsible for the site, said the criticism by the Israeli group was “politically motivated,” and the area would not be damaged by the tractor.
“We don’t hide anything,” he said, adding that anyone can see what the digging has unearthed. “These are all assumptions with no evidence, and lack scientific considerations.”
The Israeli Antiquities Authority had no comment.
The digging for the new cable, carried out by the Jerusalem Electricity Co., was completed Wednesday, Natsheh said, and a team of antiquities engineers oversaw the work. He said only the laying of the cable and filling the trench remain.
Archaeological digs earlier this year by Israeli authorities next to the holy site sparked protests by Muslims. The Israelis said they were excavating outside the mosque site before improving an entry ramp.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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