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Mosque discovered in ramp near Al Aqsa

February 19, 2007

JERUSALEM, Feb 18: The site of an Israeli `archaeological’ dig that has sparked angry Muslim reaction worldwide contains what could be a Muslim prayer room (mosque), an Israeli archaeologist said on Sunday.

Muslim leaders and critics of the work said the announcement of the find, three years after it was discovered, confirmed their fears that Israel's Antiquities Authority is intent on hiding Muslim attachment to the site.

Israel began work nearly two weeks ago on a ramp leading to a disputed holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Al Aqsa. The site is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel says the project is needed to repair damage to the ramp caused by a 2004 snowstorm, and the dig won't affect Muslim holy sites on the nearby hilltop compound.

Muslim leaders accuse Israel of plotting to destroy Islamic holy places.

In an article published recently on the authority's Website, Jerusalem district archaeologist Yuval Baruch described the ruins that were discovered after the snowstorm three years ago.

“In 2004, when the Mughrabi ramp collapsed, a small room was discovered which contained an alcove covered with a dome, a kind of Muslim prayer niche, facing south,” Baruch wrote. “Some suggest that these are the remains of a prayer room that was part of a madressah (a Muslim religious school) which operated near the Mughrabi gate.”

Authority officials said the article was published earlier this month, around the time the project began.—AP