Nazareth Court Halts Construction of Mosque

Experts Say Archaeological Laws Are Being Ignored

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JERUSALEM, DEC. 19, 2001 ( A Nazareth court has issued an ordinance to halt excavation work for the construction of a mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation.

The depth of the excavations already reaches 6 meters. The reasons for the ordinance might be published Thursday.

A local Muslim fundamentalist group initiated the construction work without the necessary permits. Christians see the mosque project, located in front of one of their most beloved basilicas, as a provocation.

The appeal to the court was made not by the municipal authorities, but by the Regional Commission for Planning Regulation, an office that is directly under the governor of the Northern district. The governor long ago said he opposed the construction.

In fact, two years ago the court rejected the fundamentalists´ plans for the municipal land they claimed for their projected building.

Although the court´s ruling is seen as a positive step for Christians in the area, local Catholic sources counsel prudence, since the debate is not over.

The police had done nothing to halt the illicit construction that began Nov. 12, contending they have no jurisdiction in the matter.

The municipal authorities, moreover, are faced with a difficult political situation. The Christian mayor heads a junta that depends on the support of the Muslim majority in the municipal council.

Meanwhile, the governmental authorities are silent, despite the fact that patriarchs and Christian leaders in the Holy Land, as well as the Holy See, have requested urgent intervention to halt the works.

Not even Israel´s archaeological authorities have intervened. On Nov. 18, famous archaeologist Father Michele Piccirillo, professor at the Studium Biblicum of Jerusalem, wrote Yhoshua Dorfman, director of the Israeli Authority for Antiquities, informing him that eyewitnesses pointed out the discovery of a column and other vestiges during the excavation of the mosque´s foundations.

These findings were confirmed Nov. 19 by professor Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land and coordinator of Nazareth Village Excavations.

On Dec. 4, Yardenna Alexander, director of the Lower Galilee archaeological district, answered Father Piccirillo explaining that «unfortunately» when her agency intervened, the excavation material already had been removed.

The priest responded to this letter three days ago, reminding Alexander that the place where the excavation site is «part of the necropolis of Nazareth,» exactly as documented in Bellarmino Bagatti´s study published in «Excavation in Nazareth.»

The Franciscan added that the excavations have been allowed even though they ignore the rigorous norms established in Israeli laws.

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