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Special Reports Last Updated: Feb 7th, 2007 - 01:19:34

Israel starts excavations at Al Aqsa Mosque
By Mohammed Mar'i
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 7, 2007, 01:17

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RAMALLAH, Occupied Palestine -- While the Palestinians' attention is diverted to the Mecca meeting, Israel started Tuesday its excavation work to build a bridge near Al Magharba Gate to connect the Western Wall with the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.

The Israeli police closed the Old City of Jerusalem and the gates of Al Aqsa Mosque in an attempt to prevent Palestinians from entering the Mosque to protest the work.

The Israeli police restricted access to the city. It allowed only women and men over the age of 45 and holders of Israeli identity cards into the Old City of Jerusalem, fearing violence from Palestinians and Islamic Wakf officials over the excavations.

Outraged by the Israeli work, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called the Palestinians inside Israel to unite on the Temple Mount and defend the Al Aqsa Mosque. The higher Fatwa Council in a statement expressed worries that �the Israeli authorities will demolish part of the Magharba gate, taking advantage of the internal strife between Fatah and Hamas and the Palestinian focus on the meeting in Mecca on Tuesday, as a distraction, while they execute plans to bulldoze Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem and continue to Judaize Jerusalem.�

Director of Wakf affairs in Jerusalem, Adnan Husseini, considered the excavations as �a very dangerous plan,� warning that they could lead to violence.

Palestinian organizations threatened to respond with attacks inside Israel if reinforcement works continue at Al Aqsa Mosque. The Islamic Jihad organization said the two Qassam rockets it fired yesterday were in response to the works.

Israeli officials called upon the government to halt work, fearing an uprising similar to the 2000 uprising that erupted after Ariel Sharon's visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque. Chairman of the Israel Meretz Party Yossi Beilin said that the �excavations at such a sensitive area without prior coordination are irresponsible and might have devastating consequences.�

�Everyone who remembers the consequences of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount (Al Aqsa Mosque) and the opening of the Western Wall, is taking on too great a responsibility for human life and is playing a dangerous game into the hands of extremists on the Palestinian side,� added Beilin. A member of Israeli Labor Party.

Collette Avital called on the Israeli government to call off the reinforcement work, saying, "We must prevent the unnecessary tensions in Jerusalem".

Mohammed Mar'i is a freelance Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine . He can be reached at

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