Behind the offensive to take over the city is Ateret Cohanim, meaning Crown of the Priests, a settler organisation which has received both government and private money. Dr Irving J Moskowitz, an American millionaire who attended the opening of the tunnel and who has given pounds 1.5m to the group, says his aim is "to do everything I possibly can to reclaim Jerusalem for the Jewish people".
Ateret Cohanim's main strategy is to take over Palestinian properties in the Old City - often by illegal means, according to an Israeli government commission. So far it has introduced some 600 Jewish settlers into 60 houses in the Muslim quarter. The number of demolitions of Palestinian- owned houses in the city has also gone up sharply.
Having halted its overt activities under the previous Israeli government, Ateret Cohanim resumed its housing occupations on the morning Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government were elected in May. Arye Amit, the police chief of Jerusalem, said: "There are many other buildings that have been purchased [by settlers], or are in the process of being purchased."
The tunnel comes under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Danny Seidman, a lawyer for a group monitoring illegal takeovers, says: "Under right- wing governments in the 1980s and today, the ministry has been run by religious parties, which have favoured people associated with Ateret Cohanim to look after the tunnel".
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