“This digging is a very dangerous phase in the mosque’s history,” Sheikh Raed Salah said in a statement.
The Islamic Movement in Israel considers itself responsible for “safeguarding the Temple Mount mosques,” and organizes transports to Friday prayers at the Jerusalem site, as well as the yearly summit “Al-Aqsa is threatened.”
Sheikh Salah and his movement dramatically issue similar messages every few months. This time, Salah made the charges in response to photographs issued by the Al-Aqsa Institution, a fund which works under the Islamic Movement’s northern faction to rehabilitate Muslim holy sites.
The pictures were issued two weeks ago in Israel, but met with little response. Recently, however, they were broadcast on the al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya Arab television networks, with the claim that the Religious Zionist “Ateret Cohanim” movement is executing “dangerous and extensive excavations” in the Temple Mount area.
The Islamic Movement rushed to respond, charging that “these excavations threaten the future of the al-Aqsa Mosque, as no one knows the accurate extent, direction and depth of the digging.”
The Islamic Movement believes that the excavations threaten the Temple Mount and are concerned that their ultimate goal is the construction of the Third Temple in place of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
'All excavations are open and known'The Al-Aqsa Institution said in a statement, “On a visit a week and a half ago we managed to document extensive excavations led by the Jewish Ateret Cohanim movement, via the Antiquities Authority. The area is in the Old City, a mere couple of meters from the al-Buraq Plaza and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
"On the last visit, excavations 25 meters deep, 30 meters wide and no less than 40 meters long were witnessed – in the direction of one of the Temple Mount gates. Local residents told us that they hear digging day and night, and it has already led to fissures in the foundations of their homes.”
The Israel Antiquities Authority issued a response saying that no excavations were being carried out at all in the area of the Temple Mount.
“There were none, there are none, and none are planned,” said Osnat Goaz, spokesperson for the Antiquities Authority.
Regarding accusations of discreet and night-time digging, Goaz said, “The Authority is not acquiring assets, and is certainly not digging in the middle of the night, and definitely not behind closed doors.
"All excavations are open and known, and anyone who claims to know of other excavations is invited to report them to the Antiquities Authority, so we can act according to the law and stop illegal excavation. No digging permit was issued to anyone to dig tunnels to the Temple Mount. If someone knows of illegal excavations, it is his duty to report it to the Antiquities Authority.”
Anat Shalev contributed to the report