Israeli archaeologists accuse Islamic authorities of damaging artifacts from Biblical times at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The mosque sits on a plaza, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. The al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site for Muslims. As the site of the two Biblical temples, the Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism. The area is a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trouble began when the Wakf, the Islamic Trust that administers the site, brought in a tractor to dig a trench. The Wakf said it was replacing a 40-year-old electrical cable, but Israeli archaeologists were furious.
"In the last week, the Islamic Wakf authorities on the Temple Mount have carried out a barbaric act of excavating illicitly," said archaeologist Gabi Barkai.
He told a news conference that the digging of the 400-meter long channel has harmed relics from the time of the Temples.
"This channel destroyed several layers of ancient remains upon the Temple Mount," he added. "The trench encountered also a built wall which could have belonged to the outer courtyards of the Temple itself."
Muslim authorities have denied the allegations, describing them as "sheer propaganda." They say they respect antiquities, and the infrastructure work did not cause any damage.
Palestinian worshipper Ismael Ramadan told VOA that Israel has no right to interfere in what happens at a Muslim holy place.
"I grew up and I see [with] my eyes and I see this is [a] mosque. I don't see [a] temple," he said...