Archeological Dig Touches off Arab Protest in East Jerusalem

An archaeological dig near Jewish and Moslem holy sites in the Old City set off two hours of fierce rioting by Arabs on Sunday that spread into other parts of Jerusalem.

Fifteen East Jerusalem residents and one policeman were injured, none seriously. Police reported seven arrests. The dig was suspended temporarily.

The project was begun several months ago, under the aegis of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, to unearth a 2,000-year-old water tunnel. The tunnel runs from the Western Wall, underneath the Moslem Quarter, to the Sister of Zion convent, on the Via Dolorosa, in the heart of the Moslem Quarter.

The work proceeded without incident until the final stage Sunday morning, when ministry workers began uncovering ancient steps leading from the tunnel to the street.

Moslem religious authorities, using loud-speakers in the mosques on the Temple Mount, warned that Jews were trying to penetrate the Islamic holy sites from underground.

Within minutes, hundreds of Arabs took to the streets. They stoned the diggers and a squad of police that rushed to the scene.

Outside the Old City walls, Arabs blocked roads and hurled stones at cars, buses and police. The windows of three Egged buses were shattered, and three passengers in one of them sustained slight injuries from shards of glass.

During the rioting, officials of the municipality and the police had an emergency meeting with Moslem religious authorities at the offices of the Moslem Supreme Council, the body in charge of Islamic shrines in East Jerusalem.

Agreement was reached to halt the digging until after Id el-Adha, the Moslem Feast of the Sacrifice, on July 24.

But statements issued later by the parties concerned indicated that feelings are still running high.

The Moslem Supreme Council charged that the digging endangered many ancient Moslem buildings in the area. It repeated the charge that the excavation was another attempt by fanatic Jews to penetrate the Temple Mount.

NEXT STORY