Text size

The Israel Antiquities Authority said that what could be an Islamic prayer room was found at the site of the Mugrabi ramp in the Old City of Jerusalem, where excavation work has sparked angry protests by Muslims who say the work endangers the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Muslim leaders and critics of the digging said the announcement of the find, three years after it was discovered, confirmed their fears that the Antiquities Authority is intent on hiding Muslim attachment to the site.

In an article published recently on the authority's Web site, Jerusalem district archaeologist Yuval Baruch described the ruins that were discovered after the snowstorm three years ago.

In 2004, when the Mugrabi ramp collapsed, a small room was discovered which contained an alcove covered with a dome, a kind of Muslim prayer niche, facing south, Baruch wrote. Some suggest that these are the remains of a prayer room that was part of a madrasa (a Muslim religious school) which operated near the Mugrabi Gate.

Authority officials said the article was published earlier this month, around the time the project began.

Adnan Husseini, Director of the Islamic Waqf, which oversees affairs at the Temple Mount, expressed anger that Israel withheld news of the discovery for three years. "We didn't hear anything about this," he said. "They are always hiding things."

Baruch said the authority decided not to reveal the existence of the room sooner since it still is not clear what it was. He said finds in and around the room need further research before authorities can say exactly what the room was used for.

Activists for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem said the delayed publication of the archaeological find proved the Antiquities Authority has not been truthful.