Israelis dig tunnel near Temple Mount

Angry Muslims fear a subterranean takeover of the old city, writes Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem

Palestinians in the old city of Jerusalem expressed anger yesterday after Israeli workers were discovered digging a tunnel under the Muslim quarter, just to the north of the Temple Mount.

The tunnel was found late on Wednesday when shopkeepers on the Via Dolorosa - down which Jesus is believed to have carried the cross - heard digging underneath a stone ramp leading to the entrance of the ancient Umariyya boys' school. "People heard sounds," Khalid Dweik, who owns a shop near by, said. "They took stones out of the side of the ramp. Four people who were working there ran away."

A team of Israeli workers, guarded by a squad of soldiers, was working hurriedly yesterday to cement back stones removed the night before. At first they refused to speak. Their leader, wearing a blue shirt, said: "I have no interest in talking to you."

Later Amnon Lorch, an Israeli lawyer who is chairman of the East Jerusalem Development Association, confirmed his men are excavating a tunnel connecting with another Israeli-built tunnel that runs north from the Western Wall along the side of Temple Mount. The discovery is arousing fears among Muslims that Israel is conducting a subterranean takeover of the old city of Jerusalem.

Adnan Husseini, director of the Waqf religious endowment, which owns much of the property in the city, said yesterday: "Officials had told us digging had stopped. They want to take over everything." He said Israelis were applying chemicals to the bed rock to make it easier to excavate.

The issue is so sensitive because the new tunnel extends the network of underground tunnels dug by Israel in the Eighties - and now open to the public - beneath Palestinian houses and institutions standing along the Western Wall or Haram al-Sharif.

On the great 34-acre masonry platform, once the site of the Jewish Temple, now stand the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque, making it the second most important place of pilgrimage in the Muslim world.

Mr Lorch says the Israelis are excavating a tunnel which is 2,100 years old and was originlly discovered by a British archaeologist, Charles Warren, in the last century. He added, however, that he did not know who had built the original one and it might be a natural formation. He also criticised local people for removing stones from the side of the ramp which "doesn't belong to the people".

Mr Husseini says he cannot find out who is behind the excavation because "the decision-makers hide in their houses".

The East Jerusalem Development Association is two-thirds owned by the Ministry of Tourism and one-third by Jerusalem Municipality.

An existing tunnel caused the front steps of the al-Waqf building itself to subside several feet, according to Mr Husseini. Another tunnel dug into Temple Mount itself was discovered when the Muslim authorities found water had drained out of an ancient cistern.

Last night the Ministry of Tourism categorically denied there are plans to open the tunnel, but said that it had been there for millennia. A spokeswoman, Orly Doron, said: "I read about it in Josephus. The Crusaders blocked it." She said agreement was reached yesterday with all parties, including the Waqf, to reseal the tunnel and that it would not be used by tourists in the foreseeable future.

Mr Lorch said: "Nobody has any intention other than increasing tourism." He denies there is any threat to the Haram. Razi Sa'adi, a Palestinian from elsewhere in the old city who was taking photographs of the tunnel being resealed, said: "People are scared. Now they [the Israelis] will say `we are living on part of Temple Mount which is underground'."

Other Palestinians say that since, after more than 3,000 years, Jerusalem is honey-combed with old drainage channels, water conduits and built-over passages, they fear any excavation beneath their homes can be justified.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions