Israel ‘destroys’ ancient Palestinian sites

Photo: Israel ‘destroys’ ancient Palestinian sites / Arab-Israel Relations

Several ancient archeological sites were "destroyed" after the Israeli Antiquities Authority conducted controversial digs in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian news agency reported Wednesday.

The West Bank and East Jerusalem are part of the Palestinian territories, which have been internationally recognized since 1967.

Maan News reported the Palestinian al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage as saying that Israel started the final stage of archaeological excavations at the site, which is located in the Wadi Silwan area only 20 meters from the walls of the Old City.

The dig reportedly destroyed a cemetery that dated back to the Abbasid caliphate and damaged relics that date back to the Jebusite Canaanite era in the second millennium BC, according to the Palestinian al-Aqsa Foundation.

Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, is funding the excavations as part of a plan to build a seven-story building which will serve as a Jewish cultural center, the Palestinian foundation said in a statement.

The Israeli project reportedly includes building a biblical park in the area, alongside the City of David archaeological park, and will feature a "museum of Jewish history" and a "Jewish national park."

The excavations were made possible after "the Israeli occupation has been digging under and around al-Aqsa Mosque," the statement said, adding that the third-holiest site in Islam is located only 100 meters from the site itself.

The excavation site measures around 1.5 acres and runs 20 meters deep in some places.

Israeli assaults against the al-Aqsa compound have been on the increase.

In early March, about 75 extremist Jewish settlers stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The flashpoint compound sits above the Western Wall plaza and houses the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque.

It is also one of Judaism's holiest sites as Jews believe it is the site of the first and second Jewish temples. Al-Aqsa mosque is also known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Israel granted final approval Wednesday for plans to build another 186 new homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, a city councillor told Agence France-Presse, drawing an angry reaction from the Palestinians.

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