Temple Mount Dig on Hold Pending Cabinet Approval

A salvage dig near the Temple Mount's Mughrabi Gate will not be resumed just yet, after Culture Minister Ghaleb Majadele appealed to the cabinet yesterday against a ministerial committee's decision to restart the work.

In his letter to the cabinet, Majadele, who is responsible for the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that resumption of the work is liable to cause riots, especially coming so shortly before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's planned departure for the Annapolis peace conference. He also asked that opinions be solicited from all the relevant agencies, including the Antiquities Authority and UNESCO, before any decision is made.

The dig is a precursor to the planned construction of a bridge leading to the Mughrabi Gate. The bridge would replace an access ramp that collapsed a few years ago.

Hadash Party Chairman Mohammed Barakeh assailed the ministerial committee's decision yesterday, terming it a "provocation" aimed at "torpedoing the meeting in Annapolis, and the negotiations with the Palestinians, before they have even begun."

"This further reveals the true and well-known face of the Olmert-Barak-Lieberman government," he continued, adding that the decision could set the entire region on fire.

The Islamic Movement also blasted the decision, saying that it indicates Israel's true intentions at the Annapolis conference. "The Palestinians must understand that this is the moment for internal dialogue on establishing a national unity government that would uphold vital Palestinian interests in the face of Israel's attempt to undermine them," it declared in a statement. It also urged Muslims from all over Israel to go to Jerusalem and "demonstrate a presence."

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, chief rabbi of the Western Wall, retorted that the planned construction is vital to the safety of people visiting the Wall, and urged that it be completed as soon as possible. He also rejected Arab claims that the work is being carried out under the Temple Mount itself.

"These are false claims that lack even a shred of truth," he said. "Work in the Temple Mount compound would violate halakha (Jewish law)."

Such accusations, he added, "inflame hatred and incitement for no reason. Politics must be distanced from the holy places and stick to the facts."