Restrictions were placed on Moslem worshipers allowed to the Temple Mount, and the police were out in force Tuesday morning at the excavation works site, in anticipation of a fierce Arab reaction to the work. Though less violent than expected, rock-throwers rioted in eastern and northern Jerusalem; 11 Arabs were arrested.
In addition, terrorist groups fired four Kassam rockets, in two waves, claiming to retaliate for the excavation work. In the first Kassam wave, around 1 PM, one rocket landed on the fence of a sensitive infrastructures installations outside Ashkelon, and one crashed into the western Negev. Three hours later, two more rockets smashed down near Sderot, including one that landed in a nearby community. No one was hurt.
The Antiquities Authority is carrying out a "salvage excavation," a preparatory operation before the construction of a new pedestrian pathway to the Temple Mount. The existing one, leading to the Mughrabim Gate, was rebuilt over the past two years after earthquake and weather damage, and cuts off much of the women's prayer area at the Western Wall.
Jerusalem arachaeologist Yuval Baruch said that the excavations are not at all near the Temple Mount, and that the Arabs have no reason to protest. Jerusalem District Police Chief Ilan Franko agreed, adding that the works were coordinated in advance with the Moslem Waqf that oversees the Temple Mount.
Arab leaders were unfazed, however, and continued to stoke the fires of conflict. Hamas Authority leader Ismail Haniyeh called on Moslems all over Israel, including in the PA-controlled areas, to "prevent" the continuation of the works, and Fatah figures made similar calls. Arab MKs Tzartzour and Zechalke showed up in the Old City and demanded to see the excavation plans, while MK Taleb A-Sana warned of the outbreak of "a third intifada." Other Arab leaders warned Israel of the dangers of "playing with fire."
Left-wing Knesset Members were quick to condemn the Israeli initiative. Colette Avital (Labor) said the work is unnecessary, and Meretz Party chairman Yossi Beilin said the project could cause a disaster.
Some feel that the Arab rage was actually caused by other archaeological finds in the area, which disprove the Arab theory developed over the past ten years claiming that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were never historically Jewish.
Doron Spielman, Director of Development for the City of David foundation, says that anti-Zionists and Arabs truly have something to complain about. Speaking today on IsraelNationalRadio about a recent "phenomenal" discovery that left show hosts Yishai and Malkah Fleisher "speechless," Spielman informed listeners of the find of a 150-foot-wide staircase and an accompanying roadway leading directly up to the Temple from the Siloam Pool. He explained that the many thousands of Jews who arrived in Jerusalem three times a year would have used that stairway on their way from ritually immersing in the Pool to reach the Temple.