PA minister accuses Israel of exploiting attack to dig under Temple Mount

Palestinians claim Israeli excavations under Al-Aqsa Mosque are meant to destroy compound

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Aerial view of the Temple Mount. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Aerial view of the Temple Mount. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Adnan al-Husseini, the Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem Affairs minister, on Sunday accused Israel of taking advantage of the recent two-day closure of the Temple Mount to check for ways to dig under the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The potentially explosive allegation came a day after Israel reopened the site following a terror attack there on Friday that killed two policemen, and amid heavy protests over the subsequent installation of metal detectors at entrances to the site. The attackers apparently used guns stashed inside the holy compound for the attack.

Husseini charged that a security sweep held at the site while it was closed for two days — the first time in decades the compound was shuttered to Muslim worshipers on a Friday — was a pretense for other activities.

“During the time occupation forces closed the Al-Aqsa, they went down to the wells via the stairs. I believe they were looking for a way to complete the digging they are doing,” he said, according to a report in the official PA news site Wafa.

Israel closed off the Temple Mount to worshipers on Friday as police searched for more weapons and for other evidence relating to the attack. The compound remained closed through Saturday, and was reopened on Sunday.

Husseini did not say in his comments on Sunday why he thinks Israel would want to dig under the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Palestinian Authority's Jerusalem governor, Adnan Husseini (C) speaks at a press conference in a Jerusalem hotel. Monday, January 10, 2011.
Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem governor, Adnan Husseini (C) speaks at a press conference in a Jerusalem hotel. Monday, January 10, 2011.

However, Husseini has made the same allegation in the past, and argued Israel was seeking to prove the existence of the ancient Jewish Temples in order facilitate the eventual building of a third Jewish Temple where the Al-Aqsa Mosque currently stands.

Another widespread conspiracy theory among Palestinians and the wider Arab world is that Israel is digging under the mosque in order to physically destroy the Muslim holy site.

Facebook posts of at least one of the three Arabs-Israelis who carried out the deadly attack in Jerusalem on Friday showed he believed the Al-Aqsa Mosque was “in danger.”

While there are excavations being carried out near the Temple Mount, Israel denies that any digging has breached the ground underneath the holy site.

“The diggers are painstaking to respect the dignity of the Temple Mount. Despite complaints from the Islamic Movement and Palestinian groups, not a single dig penetrates beneath the mount,” the Israeli daily Haaretz reported in 2106.

Since the attack on Friday, Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of “taking advantage” of the shooting in order to seize control of the Temple Mount.

Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem's Old City next to the Temple Mount. (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem’s Old City next to the Temple Mount (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Deputy head of Fatah Mahmoud al-Aloul, who was in a meeting with Husseini and other senior PA officials in Ramallah on Sunday, accused Israel of “exploiting the recent operation in Jerusalem in order to realize its plan of temporally and spatially dividing the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Officials said experts would examine the holy site to see if it had been damaged by Israel during the closure.

The officials “affirmed” that the status quo at the sensitive complex should remain and that no Israeli changes, including for security, should be accepted. The group expressed its opposition to the installation of new security measures, including metal detectors and cameras, at the Temple Mount.

Mahmoud al-Aloul, member of the Central Committee of Fatah. January 6, 2010. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Mahmoud al-Aloul, member of the Central Committee of Fatah. January 6, 2010. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Under the status quo established after Israel captured the site in 1967, the Temple Mount is managed by the Waqf Islamic foundation under the auspices of Jordan, and Israel controls access. Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray, at the site, the holiest in Judaism as the place of the biblical temples.

Israel has repeatedly denied seeking any change to arrangements.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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