The UN cultural agency wants Israel to halt its controversial excavations near Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine, officials said on Wednesday, March 14.
"The government of Israel should be asked to stop immediately the archaeological excavations," officials with access to the findings of a UNESCO mission told Reuters.
The Paris-based UN agency believes that the undertaken excavations are "sufficient for the purpose of assessing the structural conditions of the pathway."
Israeli bulldozers started on February 6 demolishing the wooden bridge leading to Al-Maghariba Gate, one of Al-Aqsa Mosque’s 14 gates.
The excavations touched off widespread protests in the occupied Palestinian lands and across the Muslim world.
Israel denies the work poses any risk to the holy site. But Palestinians and Muslims insist the digging is part of a scheme to shake the foundation of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Photos taken by Arab Knesset member Abbas Zakur showed that two Muslim prayer rooms were unearthed in the Israeli excavation.
The photos also showed a wall adjacent to the two prayer rooms which might indicate the existence of a mosque that was later demolished.
The Arab Israeli lawmaker accused the authorities of trying to conceal the mehrab by covering it with boards. Al-Aqsa Mosque is the Muslims first Qiblah [direction Muslims take during prayers] and it is the third holiest shrine after Al Ka’bah in Makkah and Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.
Its significance has been reinforced by the incident of Al Isra’a and Al Mi’raj -- the night journey from Makkah to Al-Quds and the ascent to the Heavens by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The UNESCO believes that the Israeli digging lacked "a clear work plan setting the limits of the activity, thereby opening the possibility of extensive and unnecessary excavations."
It maintains that Israel should draw up a new work plan in consultation with Jordanian authorities and the Palestinian Waqf, which oversees Muslim holy sites in Al-Quds.
If excavations proceed, UNESCO insists, they should be conducted under international supervision.
UNESCO and Turkey have sent archeologists to Al-Quds to assess the Israeli excavations.
The UN culture agency has designated the old city of Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) as a world heritage site. In 1982, UNESCO added the holy city to the List of World Heritage in Danger as a recognition of the danger to religious properties.
Israel captured and occupied Al-Quds in the six-day 1967 war, then declared its annexation in a move not recognized by the world community or UN resolutions.
Britain’s The Guardian daily recently unveiled a confidential UK memo accusing Israel of rushing to "judaize" Al-Quds to prevent the city from becoming the capital of the future Palestinian state.
Backed by court orders and wealthy donors, ultra-nationalist Jewish groups continue to evict indigenous Palestinians from their homes in the holy city and transfer their properties to Jewish settlers.
Friends of Al Aqsa is a voluntary organisation concerned with the defence of
Al Aqsa Haram Sharif and the protection of Palestinian Human Rights.
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