Wakf fixing Temple Mount wall
By Etgar Lefkovits

JERUSALEM (March 26) - A year and a half after engineering tests conducted by the Antiquities Authority on the southern wall of the Temple Mount showed sections are in danger of collapse, the Wakf Muslim religious trust is repairing a bulge in the outer wall, Wakf director Adnan Husseini said yesterday.

"Our people are continually working there and have completed 20 percent of the work," Husseini said, noting he hopes the work will be completed by the end of the year.

Jon Seligman, Jerusalem regional archeologist for the Antiquities Authority, who is nominally in charge of the site, said he is aware of the work, but declined to comment further, as did Jerusalem police.

Sources said the Antiquities Authority has reached a tacit agreement with the Wakf, allowing it to repair the wall.

The Antiquities Authority has kept a low profile on the issue, likely due to its sensitivity and the need for cooperation from the Wakf.

Seligman said last year the problem needs to be addressed "as soon as possible," but "obviously cannot be done without the cooperation of the Wakf."

The decision to allow the Wakf to carry out the repair work was blasted yesterday by other archeologists.

"The same people who were responsible for the fantastic destruction on the Temple Mount are now being contracted to work outside the Temple Mount area at the southern wall," said Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University, a member of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. The committee has been decrying Wakf work at the site for two years.

The Antiquities Authority conducted a series of tests in 2000, after sections of the southern wall were found to be protruding, likely due to Wakf construction over the last five years at Solomon's Stables, located just above the site. The Wakf is converting the area into a mosque.

"If not treated, the problem is a source of danger in the medium-term, and its collapse may cause irreversible damage to the structure," the Antiquities Authority's July 2001 survey states.

Work on converting Solomon's Stables into a mosque was most intense in 1996, when the government of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned a blind eye to the activity. Construction began in earnest shortly after riots erupted over Israel's opening of an exit to the Western Wall tunnel.

The bulge in the wall extends over an area of 190 square meters.

Its center is 30 meters west of the southeastern corner of the wall, and 9.5 meters below the wall's top. The bulge is still growing.

The Antiquities Authority report states the deformation of the southern wall is "probably relatively recent," with poor building standards or faulty drainage cited as possible causes.

Yesterday, working tools, an elevator shaft, and large steel rods could be seen along the side of the southern wall above the archeological garden. The area was being guarded by two police officers, who asked this reporter to leave.