By Ma’an News Agency – 10 Sept 2009; updated 11 Sept 2009
Jerusalem – Ma’an – A Jerusalem-based Palestinian organization alleged on Thursday that Israel has begun digging a new underground tunnel in the direction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
The Al-Aqsa Foundation for Heritage and Waqf claimed that the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the “Elad” settler organization has already dug a 120 meter long, 1.5 meter wide tunnel from underneath Jerusalem’s Palestinian Silwan neighborhood toward the mosque.
According to the organization, the tunnel begins underneath the Ein Mosque in Silwan, and has been outfitted with lights, stairways, and iron studs for reinforcement.
“Among the risks of digging the tunnel is that it will be linked to a number of tunnels that were dug by Israel 40 years ago under the town of Silwan and other tunnels that were dug in the vicinity of and below the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the Al-Aqsa foundation claimed in its report.
Israeli organizations already maintain a network of tunnels underneath Silwan, which they believe is the site of the fortress of the Biblical King David. The Elad group has also turned the site into a tourist attraction called the City of David, where visitor can pay to take a tour that runs underneath the streets of Silwan.
Silwan’s Palestinian residents are alarmed about the excavations, which they say have caused roads to cave in. Houses in the area, the residents say, are developing cracks because of the hollow land underneath.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is also a highly sensitive location. Believed to be the location where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven during his Night Journey, Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam. The Al-Aqsa compound, with the golden Dome of the Rock, is also a focal point of Palestinian national pride.
The compound sits atop what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, where the Jewish first and second Temples are thought to have stood. The location is especially sensitive because some extremist Jewish groups seek the demolition of the mosques and the construction of a “Third Temple.”
The revelation of a tunnel dug along the Western Wall, underneath the Al-Aqsa compound in 1996 set of rioting that left 80 people dead.