The Israeli government is planning to spend 60 million shekels ($16.6 million) on excavation projects under Al-Aqsa Mosque, amid calls for illegal Jewish settlers to storm the Muslim holy site, Ma'an has reported. A draft resolution on the issue will be presented by Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, with the funding provided by her department and the Department of Education over the next two years.
Israeli occupation forces have also ordered that part of the cemetery of Bab Al-Rahma be separated from the eastern wall of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa compound that it adjoins. Residents of the town of Silwan have protested against the desecration of the cemetery, which contains the graves of many Palestinian scientists, scholars and martyrs. There has been an increase in the number of Israeli violations of the sanctity of Bab Al-Rahma, with plans for a park to be established there.
Israel has continued to excavate the ground beneath the Noble Sanctuary, in the search for evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in the area, including the existence of a Jewish Temple. Such excavations weaken the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque. This, say critics, is the real reason for the digging, because Jewish extremists want to destroy the mosque and build a temple in its place.
Government funded extremist groups, such as the Temple Movement, have already made detailed blueprints in preparation for the building of such a temple. Hundreds of Jewish settlers regularly storm the Noble Sanctuary compound backed by Israeli security forces, performing rituals and pledging to destroy the mosque, whilst Muslim worshippers are locked out.
In April alone, some 3,747 settlers broke into the compound, usually protected by the police or army. So far, 2018 has witnessed a 30 per cent increase in such incursions over last year.
Furthermore, the Temple Movement has called on its supporters to participate in a large-scale incursion of the mosque next Sunday, coinciding with the anniversary of the 1967 occupation of Jerusalem, and the day before the US will open its new embassy in the city. "It is time to declare victory in the war," the group said on its website. "On Jerusalem Day we will enter the Temple Mount [Al-Aqsa Compound] by the thousands."
Last month, an Israeli court ruled that Jewish visitors entering Al-Aqsa Mosque may chant patriotic slogans as they do not count as religious prayers. The ruling was given after a right-wing Jewish activist was detained for several hours in 2015 for chanting "The people of Israel will live" in Hebrew.
In March, an Israeli Magistrates' Court in Jerusalem also ruled that Jewish settlers can perform prayers at the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque, adding that it would be "the best proof of the Israeli control of the area." This violates the status quo agreed upon for the management of the site between the Islamic Waqf (Religious Endowment) Ministry and the Israeli government.