JERUSALEM - Israel unveiled an underground archaeological site near a disputed Jerusalem holy shrine on Tuesday, nearly a decade after the opening of an exhibit in the same area sparked widespread Palestinian rioting.
The latest discovery included a ritual bath from the period of the second Jewish Temple, destroyed in 70 A.D., and a wall that archaeologists said dates to the first Jewish Temple, destroyed in 586 B.C. The findings strengthen Jewish ties to the shrine also claimed by Muslims.
The new tourist center snakes underground, adjacent to the path of the Western Wall, the last remaining retaining wall of the Jewish Temple. When the center is opened in a few weeks, visitors will be presented with a sound and light show of Jewish biblical history, highlighting artifacts dating back thousands of years.
Israel has been conducting archaeological digs near the Western Wall since it captured east Jerusalem and its Old City in the 1967 Mideast war. The digs infuriate Palestinians and the Islamic Trust that oversees the mosque complex that now sits on the mountain that once held the biblical temples.
Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the site is considered so holy that many observant Jews won't go to the site for fear of defiling it. Known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, the site is now home to the Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and is revered as the place where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
The shrine, which is adjacent to the Western Wall, is one of the most sensitive in the Mideast conflict, and has often been the catalyst of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
In 1996, Israel opened a tunnel alongside the compound, triggering Palestinian riots in which 80 people were killed.
SHARON'S VICTORY: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's narrow defeat of a challenge within his Likud Party gave him time to decide his political future, but he may still bolt the party if it refuses to support his political program, an adviser said Tuesday.
GAZA AIRSTRIKES: Israeli aircraft unleashed a barrage of missiles into the Gaza Strip. Tensions were further inflamed when Hamas released a video showing a bound and blindfolded Israeli businessman whom they kidnapped and later killed.