April 30, 2002

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Experts from 10 Arab countries met Tuesday to discuss how to protect Islamic religious and cultural monuments in east Jerusalem that they claim are threatened by Israel.

Speaking at the start of the four-day conference, Arab League Deputy Secretary General Saeed Kamal accused Israel of attempting to transform Islamic sites in east Jerusalem and other West Bank cities into Jewish sites.

``Israel is trying to steal the past and the present of the Palestinian people through Judaizing its heritage and its history,'' Kamal said.

Zahi Hawas, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and the conference's chairman, blasted Israel for conducting archaeological digs in Jerusalem and especially under Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock Mosque both stand in a compound known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Muslims revere it as the site from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. The mosques are built atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples and the wall surrounding them winds on to incorporate the Wailing Wall, holy to Jews.

The experts from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen are meeting at the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo to iron out an Arab presentation to be made at the World Heritage Conference, which opens June 24 in Budapest, Hungary.

Kamal said Arabs will urge the Budapest conference to set up an international committee to investigate ``Israel's crimes against Palestinian heritage.''

Israel annexed east Jerusalem after its army captured the ancient city from Arabs in the 1967 Middle East war and later declared the whole city its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as their capital.

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