New bulge develops on wall of Temple Mount

As Jordanian engineers began tests on a two-year-old bulge on the southern wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount this week, a side section of the mount's western wall that shows signs of dampness has begun to protrude as well.

The latest swelling of the 2,000-year-old supporting wall is on its western side, to the right of the area where Jewish worshipers visit.

The 10-meter bulge, which can be seen just to the right of the Mugrabi Gate and to the left of Robinson's Arch, in the archeological garden which abuts the Western Wall prayer area, lies directly underneath a small garden area atop the Temple Mount.

The area of the wall in question was visibly damp, even after Israel's long, dry summer. Informed sources say that the bulge which looks like the one on the southern wall did two years ago is likely the result of water dripping inside of the wall from the Wakf's small garden above.

Water drippage and faulty draining were cited by the Antiquities Authority as probable causes for the the southern wall bulge last year.

Unlike the southern wall, which lies just under Solomon's Stables, which has been turned into the largest mosque in Israel, the area near the western wall is unoccupied, both above and below where it is cordoned off due to its proximity to the Mugrabi Gate. As such, a possible collapse there does not pose the danger that a collapse of the southern wall does.

The Antiquities Authority declined to comment "at the present time" on the condition of the western supporting wall.

Fearing renewed violence, police have barred non-Muslims, including archeologists, from entering the Mount since then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the site in September 2000, leaving the area without archeological supervision.

Just this week, the Prime Minister's Office acknowledged that a yearlong dispute between Israel and the Wakf Islamic Trust over who will fix the bulge in the southern wall has been resolved, with a decision to involve Jordanian engineers.

It was not immediately clear whether the Jordanian team would take responsibility for other portions of the Temple Mount.

The decision to let the Jordanians work on the Mount, which was made at a top level meeting presided over by Sharon last week, follows warnings by archeologists that sections of the wall are in danger of collapse, and comes a month before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when hundreds of thousands of Muslims are expected to visit the site.

Over the past year, in what has been refereed to as "the battle over the bulge," intermittent discreet negotiations with the Wakf to fix the bulge in the wall remained at a standstill over a disagreement as to who will fix the problem Israel or the Wakf.

The standoff continued for over a year even though only a few days were needed to carry out the culmination of engineering tests at the site that the Antiquities Authority had completed on the outside of the wall, and even though that bulge grew to its current length of 190 meters, protruding by as much as 70 cm.