Ancient tunnel was once a waterway
September 25, 1996
Web posted at: 11:10 p.m. EDT (0510 GMT)
From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The tunnel whose completion sparked
clashes Wednesday between Israelis and Palestinians snakes
through Jerusalem's exotic past -- and along some of the
city's most sacred sites.
Formerly an underground waterway, the pedestrian tunnel was
carved more than 2,000 years ago out of Jerusalem's
formidable rocky core.
The pedestrian tunnel is about 500 meters (yards) long and
links the Western Wall, the holiest shrine of Judaism, with
the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus is thought to have taken on
his way to his crucifixion. The Western Wall is the last
remnant of the complex that housed the Biblical temples.
Tourists entering from the Western Wall plaza first walk
about 200 meters (yards) through a series of medieval and
Roman halls at different levels. As they proceed, they enter
a narrow, long tunnel.
The tunnel was partially built by the Hasmoneans in the 2nd
century B.C., and supplied water to the Second Jewish Temple.
It is located near sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and
The tunnel runs along the raised platform that is referred to
by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as
Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary. Two mosques, Al Aqsa and
the Dome of the Rock, sit on the mount.
Rediscovered in the mid-1900s by the British explorer Charles
Warren, the tunnel is less than a meter (yard) wide. Workers
began clearing the tunnel more than 10 years ago. On Monday
night, the Israelis broke through the last few feet of wall.
From the water tunnel, it is a few meters (yards) to the exit
opened into the Via Dolorosa. At the new exit, a gray iron
door was welded into place.
"We can touch the foundation stone of our existence here,"
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
The Israelis say the new exit will provide easier access for
tourists and pilgrims and add to Jerusalem's allure.
But for the Arab world, the tunnel's completion signals that
Israel plans to undermine the sacred Islamic sites. It is
seen as part of a campaign to strengthen Israel's unilateral
control in the disputed city.
"The Arab League affirms that such actions represent a
clear attack on Islamic holy sites and a violation of the
Geneva," the group said in a statement.
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