On Tuesday Israeli bulldozers moved towards the al-Maghareba (Moroccan) gate of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s old city and started demolishing parts of a mound covering a walkway. Security guards were stationed at entrances to the compound and Israeli military and 2,000 members of the Israeli police force patrolled the old city’s streets during what Israeli authorites are calling ‘excavations’.Taysir al-Tamimi, a senior Muslim cleric stated that the bulldozers intended to demolish a mound next to al-Maghareba Gate, one of the entrances into Jerusalem’s Old City leading to the mosque compound.

The Waqf religious trust claim that levelling the mound will threaten the foundation of the entire al-Aqsa compound, which dates back to the 7th century.

The Israeli government recently decided to start demolishing the mound, citing the need to build a road for Jewish settlers. Ehud Olmert also recently granted permission for a synagogue to be built only 40-50 meters away from the al-Aqsa mosque, on land that was captured from Palestine in the 1967 war.

On Sunday the leader of Hamas condemned the ‘excavations’ near the Al-Aqsa Mosque and warned that Israeli authorites were ‘playing with fire’. He referred to former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Aqsa which sparked the uprising in 2000, and said that ‘the Israeli leadership must learn from this lesson.’

Early on Tuesday morning Israeli occupation forces closed the gates to the Al Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s old city and deployed troops in the streets and the area of Magharba Gate. Israeli radio reports that this is a method of creating a sense of calm while ‘Israeli construction work aimed at restoring the pathway leading from the Western Wall (Jewish ‘Wailing’ Wall) to the adjacent Temple Mount (Al Aqsa Mosque)’ is carried out.

Israeli army and police have arrested Sheik Raid Salah, general secretary of the Islamic movement inside the green line. Along with Palestinians of Jerusalem, Sheik Salah was trying to approach the site as the demolition got underway. A verbal disagreement broke out between Salah and some Israeli police officers and border guards, leading to him be abducted by them.
Salah stated that the Israeli destruction of parts of al-Aqsa is a part of the procedure of jeudaizing Jerusalem that was launched after the Israeli occupation of the city in 1967.

Israeli troops and police continue to keep all streets leading to the old city and al-Aqsa Mosque closed.

On Tuesday midday, Palestinian students from the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem organized a demonstration against the Israeli action in Jerusalem near the Israeli army checkpoint in the city. Clashes erupted between the boys and the army. Troops used rubber-coated bullets, sound bombs and tear gas while Palestinian boys used rocks and stones. Protestors continued to voice their opposition to the demolition work being carried out near Al –Aqsa Mosque for several hours before ending the demonstration.

The truth behind the demolition work which started today is still unclear due to the fact that a third excuse for Israeli construction work near the mosque comes into the equation: in mid January IMEMC reported on the fears that were being raised by excavations being carried out under the mosque.

These excavations were being carried out by Israeli archeologists and an Israeli online daily reported that the purpose of the dig was to clear out an old garbage-filled tunnel to determine whether it posed a safety hazard. The archeologists claimed that the excavations only advanced to within 60 meters of the mosque. More recently however the antiquities authority’s chief archaeologist for the Jerusalem region told Israeli radio the work was a salvage operation. The afforementioned online daily is now reporting that the construction is in fact maintenance work on the ‘pathway’.

Israel has been conducting what it terms ‘excavation work’ under the Al Aqsa Mosque since 1969. In February 2004, excavation works carried out by Israeli authorities led to the collapse of a part of the path leading to Al Maghareba Gate, one of the mosque’s main entrances. However, Isreali media claims that the excavation had no effect on this incident and cites a snowstorm as the reason for the collapse.