Fresh eye-witness accounts indicate the Muslim Waqf has added a new tunnel accessing the ancient Hulda Gates corridor to its growing list of "archaeological crimes" on the Temple Mount.
The tunnel reportedly runs underground from below the Al Aqsa mosque to the Hulda Gates area, which dates back to the Second Temple era. Although Israeli police denied the reports, journalists and others who saw the new tunnel first-hand said it includes electric lighting and an observation pit with an iron grille in the floor through which can be seen remnants of an old floor.
Archaeologists with the Committee to Prevent the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount said they had photographs proving that construction work of a tunnel is being undertaken under the Al Aqsa mosque, destroying archeological remains. "I would be happy to go to the site with the police, who are having trouble locating these things, and show them what we are talking about," said archaeologist Prof. Gabi Barkai of Bar-Ilan University.
According to Barkai, the Waqf has paved thousands of square meters of the Mount. This in itself would have caused no harm, he said, except that "in preparation, they lowered the level of the Mount by many dozens of centimeters, thereby damaging antiquities from the days of the First Temple, the Hasmonean Kingdom, the Herodian period and the Roman, Christian and Muslim periods." In another area of the Mount - the "Ramah" region where the Islamic dome is located, and where many believe the Temple formerly stood - the Waqf is raising the floor, and this also damages antiquities, Barkai said.
Dr. Eilat Mazar, an archaeologist affiliated with the Hebrew University, added: "There is most definitely a new tunnel, and the damage is great. The Police Commissioner, who said there isn't, simply relied on his spokesman, who relied on the lone policeman there, who was simply unable to find the tunnel. The police are not trained to be archaeologists, and it is therefore not surprising that he did not find it... We demand to be allowed to go up to the Mount, study what is going on, and point out where the damage is,"
Israeli's chief rabbis yesterday joined the growing tempest. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron demanded that Prime Minister Ehud Barak set up a commission of inquiry to investigate what kind of digging is really being done on Judaism's holiest site.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau charged that Israel made a historic mistake when it gave control over the holy site to the Jordanian-appointed Muslim authority just after the 1967 Six Day War. "Any nation who does not know how to safeguard its past has no possible future," he said, also accusing Muslim authorities of systematically destroying archeological remains from the temples.
The Jerusalem Mufti, sheikh Ekrima Sabri, says the entire area, including the Western Wall, belongs to Islam. He denies that there ever was a Temple there and says the Jews have no historic connection to Jerusalem.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.