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Israel defends construction work near Al-Aqsa Mosque
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2007-02-07 10:01
The Israeli Antiquities Authority Tuesday defended its construction work near Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, saying it was building a safe bridge to the compound.

The Authority said in a press release that it has begun salvage excavations in the Jerusalem Archeological Park, sitting beneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, for the purpose of erecting supporting pillars for a permanent and safe bridge leading to the entrance of the compound.

The bridge will replace the temporary wooden bridge which was built after the original stone ramp leading up to the compound's Mughrabi Gate damaged by earthquake and snowstorms in February 2004.

The excavations impose no threat to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compoundand is designated to prevent and minimize damage which could becaused to ancient remains as a result of the construction, the Authority said.

The compound, where Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock is located, is referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as al-Haramal-Sherif, the Noble Sanctuary.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is Islam's third holiest shrine and has beena focus for Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the past.

In recent weeks, Palestinians have expressed concern on Israel's excavation, fearing Israel will damage the compound and have warned the work would inflame tensions.

On Tuesday, the Israeli police markedly beefed up their presence in Jerusalem's Old City, and intensified the restrictions on visitors' access to the compound.

Yuval Baruch, Israel's chief archaeologist for the Jerusalem region, told Israel Radio Tuesday that the work was between 60 to 70 yards from the site, and there was "no intention of getting close to the Temple Mount."

"We invite everyone to come and see. We are working under the open sky and have nothing to hide. We won't do anything secretly or in the dark," Baruch said.

On the other hand, Israel's Arab lawmaker criticized the plan as a provocation to the Arab and Muslim world.

Israeli lawmaker from the United Arab List Talab El-Sana was quoted by local daily Ha'aretz as saying that "the Israeli government is again provoking the Muslim world and the Palestinian people, and is not hesitating to ignite the region on behalf of irresponsible decisions."

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