ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey will send an inspection team to Al-Aqsa Mosque to survey Israeli excavations near Islam’s third holiest shrine, said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, February 15.
"I proposed to send a technical team to inspect on site the work that is being done and he (Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert) has agreed," Erdogan told a joint press conference with Olmert, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Erdogan said that the outcome of such an inspection would enable him to say without doubt that the Israeli diggings were not damaging to the holy mosque.
Cashing on world silence, Israeli bulldozers started Tuesday, February 6, demolishing a wooden bridge leading to the Al-Maghariba Gate of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and two underground rooms, sparking widespread protests in the Palestinian lands and Muslim countries.
Al-Quds Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Hussein and the Head of the Islamic Movement Sheikh Raed Salah have called on the Palestinians to flock to Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, February 16, to protest the Israeli excavations near the holy mosque.
Last Friday, 20 Palestinian were wounded when Israeli soldiers stormed Al-Aqsa Compound and clashed with worshippers protesting the Israeli diggings.
The compound, known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the Muslims’ first Qiblah [direction Muslims take during prayers] and the third holiest shrine after Al Ka’bah in Makkah and Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.
Its significance has been reinforced by the incident of Al Isra’a and Al Mi’raj — the night journey from Makkah to Al-Quds and the ascent to the Heavens by Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him).
This represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict as Jews claim that their alleged Haykal (Temple of Solomon) exists underneath Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
In an attempt to confront Israeli schemes threatening the mosque, the Waqfs Ministry released some one million copies of an electronic guide about the mosque and its compound.
Erdogan said the Israeli premier had shown him photographs of the Israeli excavations near Al-Aqsa Mosque to prove that the diggings were not endangering the holy mosque.
"But they (photographs) have failed to convince me 100 percent," added the Turkish premier.
Ahead of his meeting with the visiting Israeli premier, Erdogan had harshly criticized the Israeli diggings near Al-Aqsa Mosque, accusing Israel of raising regional tensions.
"Turkey is disturbed and angered by Israel’s actions, which raise tensions in the entire region," said Erdogan in an interview on Thursday.
The Aqsa Mosque has been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the past.
The second Palestinian Intifada or uprising broke out in September 2000 after a provocative visit by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the mosque compound.
In 1996, more than 80 Palestinians were killed in three days of protests after then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened a new entrance to a controversial archaeological tunnel near Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Palestinians have repeatedly warned that ultra-orthodox Jewish groups were planning to dynamite the holy mosque.