RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, condemned on Thursday Israeli excavations near Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque as a provocation to Muslims and urged international pressure to stop the dig.
Israel began work at the site on Tuesday, prompting Palestinian protests and Israeli assurances that the dig would not harm Islam’s third holiest shrine.
“The kingdom expresses its condemnation of these aggressive Israeli actions,” state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted an official as saying.
“(Saudi Arabia) appeals to the world community to intervene resolutely to stop this Israeli aggression and confront these actions that aim to tamper with the religious identity of Jerusalem ... and are a provocation to Muslims around the world.”
Israel’s antiquities authority said it was searching for artifacts at the base of the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the al-Haram al-Sherif, before the construction of a pedestrian bridge leading to the complex.
The Aqsa mosque and another mosque called the Dome of the Rock sit above the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.
The Aqsa Mosque has been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the past.
Control of the area has been a key stumbling block in attempts to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The site is situated in the old city of East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied and subsequently annexed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.