Tuesday, October 05, 1999
Barak Opens New Dig near Aqsa Mosque
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Prime Minister Ehud Barak, voicing Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem, officially opened new archaeological excavations on Sunday near Al Aqsa Mosque, a flashpoint of Arab-Israeli enmity.
The step was seen as the latest signal by Barak that he would brook no compromise on the core issue of sovereignty over the holy city in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
"We...are dutybound to turn these places surrounding us -- sacred to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism -- into a bridge and a symbol of freedom of access and worship, coexistence in peace...under the sovereignty of Israel," Barak said.
As he spoke, police snipers to his side trained rifles with telescopic sights east towards the cemetery of the Mount of Olives in Arab East Jerusalem and south at the Palestinian Silwan neighborhood.
The excavations, Barak said, underscored Israelis' ties to their past "as a people manifesting its freedom in its own nation, in its eternal capital".
The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine. Muslims call the area Haram Al-Sharif, are of political and religious sensitivity exploded in bloodshed three years ago, when Barak's hardline predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a new entrance punched into a tourist tunnel near the compound.
Sixty Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed in ensuing gunbattles in the West Bank and Gaza.
Police said they expected no recurrence of violent protest as a result of the Sunday ceremony.
The fate of the holy sites and of Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, loom as the thorniest of a range of issues to be tackled in U.S.-brokered talks aimed at a permanent peace accord.
In a move unrecognized by the international community, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared it part of its "eternal capital". Arabs see the city's eastern half as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Barak ousted Netanyahu last May on a pledge to revive crippled Israeli-Arab peace talks. But Palestinians have slammed Barak`s tough stance on Jerusalem as identical to Netanyahu`s.Source: http://www.arabia.com/content/news/10_99/aqsa_4.shtml