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Israel: extremists using Jerusalem dig for political gain
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2007-02-08 14:45
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Wednesday that extremists are using the excavation in Jerusalem to fan religious feelings for political gain.

Livni made the remarks in a statement released by the Foreign Ministry Wednesday night, accusing both political groups within Israel and extremist elements outside Israel of fanning religious feelings for political gain.

"There are irresponsible elements, who know full well that no harm is being caused here to any holy site, who are exploiting Israeli democracy to fan religious feelings for political gain. This is true of both political groups within Israel and extremist elements outside Israel," she said.

"The Temple Mount is the site most holy to the Jewish people. The State of Israel will never do anything to harm the freedom of worship of members of all religions - in Jerusalem or anywhere in Israel," she added.

Tensions stemmed from Israel's excavations near the holy site in the old city of Jerusalem continued on Wednesday. A head of the Islamic Movement Northern Branch, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, was held for questioning Wednesday morning for trying to reach the site of excavation work beneath the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, despite a police ban.

Six people accompanying Salah were also detained.

According to local daily Ha'aretz, visitors' access to the compound was restricted for a second consecutive day on Wednesday due to fears of further protests over the work in the area.

Muslims across the Middle East have condemned Israel's move since it announced the start of the excavation, and some of the Arab countries have expressed their concern that the excavation could undermine the peace efforts in the region.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority on Tuesday defended its construction work, 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 February2004.

The excavations impose no threat to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and is designated to prevent and minimize damage which could be caused 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 been a focus for Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the past. On Tuesday, the Israeli police started to beef up their presence in Jerusalem's Old City, and intensify restrictions on visitors' access to the compound.

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