Despite mounting condemnations by many worldwide bodies, Israeli bulldozers continued digging around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied east Jerusalem. The Israeli cabinet today deemed the excavations ‘necessary’. The decision, announced during a weekly meeting chaired by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, called for the continuation of the digging within an open-ended time frame.
Olmert was quoted as saying “the construction will go on, for they are.. not located at the Al-Aqsa compound, thus it is not harming Muslims”, despite the fact that the digging is taking place very near, and in some cases directly underneath, the Al-Aqsa Mosque site. Muslim leaders have long pointed out the fragility of the Mosque's foundations, having been constructed on the site over 1,000 years ago. Extremist Jewish groups have claimed the site as the place they would like to build a Jewish temple, and have tried to blow up the Mosque several times, unsuccessfully, to that end.
Digging by Israeli bulldozers has been taking place over the past several days, generating large-scale criticism at local and international levels, as at least 20 Palestinian protesters were wounded Friday by Israeli tear gas canisters and lethal force of the police.
Protests against the Israeli actions resumed Sunday, as the Israeli police dispersed hundreds of protesters in the occupied east Jerusalem using violence and tear gas, and placed the entire area under strict security measures.
A number of international bodies, including the Quartet Committee for Middle East Peace (United Nations, United States, European Union, Russia), called on the Israeli government to halt its construction work, while Arab states’ foreign ministers called for an emergency session of the UN Security Council.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad resistance group vowed to retaliate with the strongest possible means at its disposal to pressure Israel halt the digging.
The Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims worldwide, has been one of the reasons behind tension in the region. In September 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon paid a provocative visit to the mosque’s compound, thus sparking the current 'intifada', an open conflict that has lasted for the seven years since that visit.