JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli officials cast doubt Friday over claims that remains of the second Jewish temple might have been found during work to lay pipes at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.
"If that was the case, the antiquities authority, which has an observer on site, as well as police, also monitoring the work, would have stepped in," said archaeologist Dan Bahat, a former excavations official in Jerusalem.
On Thursday, archaeologist Gaby Barkai from Bar Ilan University told local television that "a massive seven metre-long (23 feet) wall" had been found, and urged the government to ask the Muslim religious authorities to stop laying pipes.
Bahat said he would visit the site, but accused nameless archaeologists with a nationalist agenda of "waging a politically inspired campaign, systematically for several years, to strengthen Israeli control over the esplanade".
The police spokesman for the city, Shmulik Ben Rubi, said police had not been asked to intervene in the pipe-laying work has would have been the case normally in the event of an archaeological discovery.
A spokeswoman for Israel's antiquities authority refused to comment.
Israeli television said the pipework carried out by Muslim religious affairs authority, the Waqf, is about 1.5 metres deep and 100 metres long.
The holy site in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed unilaterally after capturing the Arab sector of the city in 1967, houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock and is the third holiest site in world Islam.
Jews venerate the site as the Temple Mount, where King Herod's second temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. It is the holiest site in Judaism.
All that remains today is the temple's Western Wall, or Wailing wall.
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