The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has warned Israel of the possible repercussions of ongoing “secret excavations” currently underway in occupied East Jerusalem, Anadolu Agency reported.
In a Wednesday statement, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the excavations were part of a longstanding plan by the Israeli government to “Judaize” the holy city.
“Israel wants to change the historical character of Jerusalem and undermine its Palestinian, Arab and Muslim identity, both above and underground,” the ministry asserted.
It went on to note that the Israeli government was also continuing to build Jewish-only settlements on occupied Arab land and expelling Palestinians from their ancestral homes in East Jerusalem.
“Israel is now in the process of digging an extensive network of tunnels under Jerusalem’s Old City, along with a number of courtyards and synagogues,” read the ministry statement.
On Tuesday, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Israeli authorities were also carrying out unpublicized excavation work under and around East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Asqa Mosque compound.
According to the newspaper, this excavation work includes construction of a network of tunnels stretching from Jerusalem’s village of Silwan to the mosque compound’s Al-Amoud (Damascus) Gate and passing through the iconic mosque’s western wall.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Some extremist Jewish groups have called for the demolition of the Al-Aqsa Mosque so that a Jewish temple might be built in its place.
In late 2000, a visit to the site by controversial Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked what later became known as the “Second Intifada” – a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in which thousands of Palestinians were killed.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the Jewish state in a move never recognized by the international community.