ISIS blows up Mosul's iconic Clock Church

Published April 26, 2016

Islamic State militants destroyed an iconic Iraqi church known for its soaring clock tower by blowing it up with explosives, media reports say.

The Clock Church in Mosul was built in the 1870s, The Telegraph reported Monday. ISIS fighters have shown no mercy to historic sites, also destroying artifacts across the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria.

Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III – the last emperor of France – paid for the Mosul tower, historians say.

The tower rose over the rooftops of buildings in Mosul. Dominican monks at the church had to promise they would not climb up the tower and peer down upon residents sleeping on their roofs in the hot summer months.

ISIS did not explain why it targeted the church. The terror group has controlled the city since June 2014.

A number of news outlets said ISIS militants planted explosives under the church and detonated it. The building already had suffered damage from a 2006 bombing.

Empress Eugenie was said to have financed the tower’s construction as a reward for the Dominican friars who were attempting to end a typhoid outbreak in Mosul at the time.

Isis razes to ground the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, satellite images show

The monastery, believed to be 1,400 years old, predated Islam

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 20 January 2016

The Isis jihadist group has completely destroyed a 1,400-year-old Christian monastery in Iraq, the oldest of its kind in the country.

Satellite images released on Wednesday by the Associated Press showed just a pile of rubble where St Elijah's Monastery used to stand on a hill above Mosul, Isis's stronghold in Iraq.

The monastery had survived as a place of Christian worship for almost one-and-a-half millenia, predating Islam itself, and had only suffered superficial damage throughout the country's most recent conflicts.

An historically significant site, the partially restored 27,000-square-foot stone building had 26 distinct rooms including a sanctuary and chapel. It still had niches where monks used to tuck candles, and the fourth century Greek "Chi-Rho" symbol, representing the name of Christ, was still visible carved into its right gatepost.

The site was recently used as a place of worship for US troops in Iraq, but fell into Isis hands in June 2014. This month, AP reported, satellite images commissioned from the firm DigitalGlobe confirmed what local antiquities experts have feared for some time.

"Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled," said Iraq-based Catholic priest Rev Paul Thabit Habib. "We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land."

The demolition itself appears to have taken place at some point between August and September 2014, image analyst Stephen Wood told AP.

Images show the stone walls "have been literally pulverized", he said. "Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those stone walls into this field of gray-white dust. They destroyed it completely."

Isis has saught to destroy sites like St Elijah's Monastery (Dair Mar Elia in Arabic) across Syria and Iraq since its reign of terror began in earnest in early 2013.

The group seeks to wipe out non-Islamic history, calling all religious shrines even to other sects within Islam idolatrous.

Most infamously, it has destroyed whole swathes of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria since it overran it in August 2015.

The terror group has blown up three tower tombs in the city and in September destroyed the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel by filling it with explosions leaving a solitary arch standing. This came after they destroyed the Temple of Baalahamin.

Roman Catholic US Army chaplain Jeffrey Whorton, who celebrated Mass on the St Elijah's Monastery altar, was grief-stricken at its loss.

"Why we treat each other like this is beyond me," he told AP. "Elijah the prophet must be weeping."

Joseph's Tomb set ablaze by Palestinian rioters


Hundreds of Palestinian rioters attempted to set fire to the Joseph's Tomb compound in Nablus on Friday morning, according to reports by Israel radio.

The crowds were dispersed and the fire was brought under control by Palestinian police before IDF forces could arrive on the scene. 

The religious site suffered severe damage in the fire. There were no reports of injuries.

The IDF said that it will repair the site in order to allow worshipers to enter. Furthermore, the military's statement said that this incident is being viewed with the utmost severity, adding that it will work to identify and stop the arsonists.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman responded to the incident, saying "This arson shows that the Palestinian Authority's occupation is no different than that of Islamic State," he said. He said that Palestinians are being incited by the lies of PA president Mahmoud Abbas, killing Israelis with machetes and knives "and now burning holy and historical sites, just like Islamic State is doing in Iraq and Syria."

He said this act was inspired by the lies of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

This incident came following a day of relative calm in Israel after several weeks of increased violence attacks across the country. On Thursday night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stop inciting Palestinians to attack Israelis with knives and axes, in a press conference given in Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] is inciting murder,” Netanyahu charged as he called on the international community to stop excusing the Palestinian leader’s actions.

The violence is the direct result of false Palestinian charges that Israel is attempting to take over the Temple Mount and is executing Palestinians, Netanyahu said at the press event designed to present Israel's case to the world.

He spoke just one day after Abbas delivered a speech on both points and then claimed that Israel had killed Ahmed Manasra, 13. The young teen along with his 15-year old cousin had stabbed a 13-year old Israeli in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood on Tuesday.

On Thursday Israel released photographs of the boy in pajamas with a bandaged on his head, recovering at Hadassah Medical Center.

“First of all he (Manasra) is not dead, he is alive. Second, he is not innocent. He tried to kill, murder – knife to death an innocent Israel youngster, 13 years old, riding his bike,” said Netanyahu.

“The only way we can fight this big lie all the other lies that are hurled at Israel and spread on Palestinian social networks is to tell the truth,” said Netanyahu.

He added that he expects the international community to condemn Palestinian incitement to murder.

Islamic State 'blows up Palmyra arch'

5 October 2015

Islamic State militants in northern Syria have blown up another monument in the ancient city of Palmyra, officials and local sources say.

The Arch of Triumph was "pulverised" by the militants who control the city, a Palmyra activist told AFP news agency.

It is thought to have been built about 2,000 years ago.

IS fighters have already destroyed two ancient temples at the site, described by Unesco as one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.

"The Arch of Triumph was pulverised. IS has destroyed it," Mohammad Hassan al-Homsi, an activist from Palmyra told AFP on Monday.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group monitoring the conflict, said sources on the ground had confirmed the destruction.

Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdul Karim also confirmed the news, and told Reuters news agency that if IS remains in control of Palmyra, "the city is doomed".

Unesco's director general Irina Bokova has said the destruction constitutes a "war crime" and called on the international community to stand united against IS efforts to "deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history".

IS believes shrines or statues represent idolatry, and should be destroyed.

In August, the group destroyed the ancient Temple of Baalshamin - one of the city's best-known buildings built nearly 2,000 years ago.

The group has also published photos of militants destroying what it said were artefacts looted at Palmyra.

IS militants captured the historic site from Syrian government troops in May, amid a series of setbacks for forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Last week, Russia, one of Mr Assad's key backers, launched air strikes in Syria, saying it was targeting IS and other extremist groups.

But members of the US-led coalition that has also been carrying out air strikes in Syria have strongly criticised the move, saying Russia appeared to be targeting more moderate anti-Assad rebels than IS.

Turkey, one of the countries to criticise Russia's intervention, said it had intercepted a Russian warplane on Saturday in Turkish airspace, and had summoned the Russian ambassador in protest.

Syria's conflict, which began in 2011, has left more than 250,000 dead and about half the country's population displaced.

ISIS blows up ancient temple in Syria’s Palmyra

Staff writer, Al Arabiya News
Monday, 24 August 2015

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants on Sunday blew up the ancient temple of Baal Shamin in the UNESCO-listed Syrian city of Palmyra, the country’s antiquities chief told AFP.

“Daesh placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” said Maamoun Abdulkarim, using another name for ISIS.

Over the past several months, ISIS have blown up and defaced historical sites and artifacts across their sprawling self-proclaimed "caliphate" stretching across Iraq and Syria.

ISIS took control of Palmyra in May, located in the central desert region of the country, sparking worldwide concern that they would destroy its 2,000 year-old ruins.

Last week, the militants caused uproar when they beheaded Khaled Asaad, an 82-year-old antiquities scholar living in Palmyra, reportedly because he refused to reveal where some artifacts were hidden.

In June, ISIS destroyed two ancient Muslim mausoleums in Palmyra.

Then in July, the militants used Palmyra's ancient amphitheatre as a stage to kill 25 Syrian solidiers, and released a video of the mass execution.

Islamic State militants behead archaeologist in Palmyra

Aug. 18, 2015

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Islamic State (IS) militants beheaded an antiquities scholar in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra and hung his body on a column in a main square of the historic site, Syria's antiquities chief said on Tuesday.

IS, whose insurgents control swathes of Syria and Iraq, captured Palmyra in central Syria from government forces in May, but are not known to have damaged its monumental Roman-era ruins despite their reputation for destroying artifacts they view as idolatrous under their puritanical interpretation of Islam.

Syrian state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said the family of Khaled Asaad had informed him that the 82-year-old scholar who worked for over 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra was executed by Islamic State on Tuesday.

Asaad had been detained and interrogated for over a month by the ultra-radical Sunni Muslim militants, he told Reuters.

"Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded ... and his corpse still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the center of a square in Palmyra," Abdulkarim said.

"The continued presence of these criminals in this city is a curse and bad omen on (Palmyra) and every column and every archaeological piece in it."

Abdulkarim said Asaad was known for several scholarly works published in international archaeological journals on Palmyra, which in antiquity flourished as an important trading hub along the Silk Road.

He also worked over the past few decades with U.S., French, German and Swiss archeological missions on excavations and research in Palmyra's famed 2,000-year-old ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site including Roman tombs and the Temple of Bel.

Before the city's capture by Islamic State, Syrian officials said they moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations out of concern they would be destroyed by the militants.

In June, Islamic State did blow up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures but which the militants regarded as pagan and sacrilegious.

ISIS says it is their 'religious duty' to destroy Egypt's pyramids and the Sphinx

Jul. 3, 2015

As tensions rise in Egypt, the ISIS has said the nation’s cultural icons, like the pyramids and the sphinx, should be destroyed.

Britain’s The Telegraph reports members of ISIS have stated that objects shouldn’t be the subject of idolisation or worship.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reportedly said destroying the monuments was a “religious duty”.

British Muslim political activist Anjem Choudary told presenter Dan Cruickshank: “When Egypt comes under the auspices of the Khalifa (Caliphate), there will be no more Pyramids, no more Sphinx, no more idolatry. This will be just”.

This week ISIS launched a wave of simultaneous attacks on Egyptian security forces. There were co-ordinated suicide attacks and ground assaults on the Egyptian military installations, which were eventually repelled with air support by Egypt’s F-16 fighter jets.

But preacher Ibrahim Al Kandari said the monuments were cultural, not religious, and should be destroyed. A Kuwaiti Islamist preacher, he called for the destruction of the monuments, saying just because early Muslims didn’t destroy them, “does not mean that we shouldn’t”.

“The fact that early Muslims who were among prophet Mohammed’s followers did not destroy the pharaohs’ monuments upon entering Egypt does not mean that we shouldn’t do it now,” Al Kandari told the Egyptian Al-Watan daily earlier this year.

The pyramids and Sphinx are a massive part of Egypt’s tourism industry and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Another blow to Christianity and civilisation: ISIS destroy 4th Century Mar Benham monastery in Iraq

•    Jihadis used explosives to destroy Mar Benham monastery in Bakhdida
•    Blast reduced the ancient building to rubble according to local residents
•    ISIS seized control of the monastery last summer, expelling resident monks
•    The ancient building was built by Assyrian king Senchareb 1,600 years ago

PUBLISHED: 10:02 EST, 19 March 2015
Daily Mail

Barbaric Islamic State militants have dealt yet another blow to Christian history in Iraq by using explosives to destroy the 4th Century Mar Benham monastery.

The ancient building, built by Assyrian king Senchareb 1,600 years ago, stood in the Christian-dominated town of Bakhdida, just 20 miles south east of oil rich ISIS stronghold Mosul.

Locals took to social media to share images of the massive blast, which reduced the ancient monastery to little more than vast piles of rubble.

The attack was later confirmed by Kurdish journalists familiar with developments in the city.

Mar Benham monastery was captured by ISIS last July in a lightning advance that saw the militants seize control of vast swathes of northern Iraq - including the country's second largest city, Mosul.

Resident monks who live in the building - which is also known as the Monastery of the Martyrs Saint Behnam and his Sister Sarah, and was once visited by thousands of Christians and Muslims every year - were subsequently forced to leave and flee to nearby Christian villages.

The destruction of the religious building was subsequently confirmed by Barzan Sadiq, executive producer at Kurdish Rudaw media network, according to the International Business Times.

ISIS blew the monastery of the two martyrs "Mar Behnam & His sister Sarah Mart", which dates back to the fourteenth century eastern Mosul, he was quoted as saying on Twitter, citing the Islamic calender.

The destruction of the monastery came just days it was claimed that 'ancient' statues infamously filmed being smashed to pieces by ISIS militants in a Mosul museum were all worthless fakes.

The terrorist organisation released shocking footage at the end of February purportedly showing jihadis destroying 3,000-year-old artworks with sledgehammers in their northern Iraqi stronghold.

But Baghdad museum director Fawzye al-Mahdi ridiculed the propaganda exercise, claiming the genuine priceless Assyrian and Akkadian statues and sculptures are still safely in his possession in the Iraqi capital, adding that those in Mosul were plaster cast replicas.

The destruction of the monastery emerged as the United Nations human rights office said that ISIS fighters may have committed genocide against the minority Yezidi community in Iraq as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilians including children.

In a report based on interviews with more than 100 alleged victims and witnesses, it urged the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court for prosecution of perpetrators.

The report also said Iraqi government forces and affiliated militias 'may have committed some war crimes' while battling the insurgency.

The U.N. Human Rights Council launched its inquiry in September after the Islamist militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, seized large swathes of northern Iraq.

The report said the Council had found 'information that points to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes', and that the Security Council should 'consider referring the situation in Iraq to the International Criminal Court'.

There was a 'manifest pattern of attacks' by Islamic State on Yezidis as well as Christians and other minorities as it laid siege to towns and villages in Iraq.

The U.N. investigators also cited allegations that ISIL had used chlorine gas, a prohibited chemical weapon, against Iraqi soldiers in the western province of Anbar in September.

Captured women and children were treated as 'spoils of war', and often subjected to rape or sexual slavery, it said.
The report said that ISIL's Islamic sharia courts in Mosul had also meted out cruel punishments including stoning and amputation. 'Thirteen teenage boys were sentenced to death for watching a football match,' it said.

The U.N. investigators said it was 'widely alleged' that Iraqi government forces had used barrel bombs, an indiscriminate weapon banned by international law, but this required further investigation.

Kuwaiti preacher, ISIS call for demolition of Egypt’s Sphinx, pyramids

Published time: March 09, 2015 22:15
Edited time: March 11, 2015 06:39

An Islamist preacher from Kuwait has called to destroy Egypt's Sphinx and pyramids, stating it is time for Muslims to erase the pharaohs' heritage. The alleged call comes as Islamic State jihadists ramp up their attacks against historic sites.
Although the ancient monuments are not religious – but rather cultural and historic sites – they should still be "destroyed" by Muslims, putting an end to the worship of images, preacher Ibrahim Al Kandari said, according to Al-Watan daily.

"The fact that early Muslims who were among prophet Mohammed’s followers did not destroy the pharaohs' monuments upon entering the Egyptian soil, does not mean that we shouldn't do it now," Al Kandari said.

Another call for the destruction of Egypt's main symbols comes from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who suggested the demolition of the historic monuments is a "religious duty," Al Alam news reported on Sunday. In the extreme interpretations of Islam, no material objects should be idolized or worshiped.

It comes amid growing concerns over the safety of many other historic and architectural monuments in the region, where militants continue to destroy ancient cities and artifacts.

Only last week, the Islamic State reportedly destroyed and looted the ancient Assyrian city of Dur Sharrukin in northern Iraq, demolished the remains of the ancient city of Hatra, and bulldozed the city of Nimrud near Mosul. The assault on the latter has already been compared by archaeologists to the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001.

In 2012, an Egyptian cleric also issued a fatwa calling to rid the country of its pyramids and the Sphinx. The member of the radical Salafi movement said he wanted the antiquities demolished, as Prophet Mohammed destroyed the idols in Mecca, and demanded Egypt's tourism ministry be abolished, comparing the industry to "prostitution and debauchery."

The religious ruling was denounced by Egypt's officials and scholars, who claimed the site was part of the country's cultural – not religious – heritage.

Attacks on the Sphinx date back centuries. Despite many legends surrounding the monument's missing nose – with harm from Napoleon's cannon being among the most popular myths – historians believe it was actually destroyed by Sufi Muslim Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr in the 14th century, after he learned that some peasants worshipped the Sphinx.

Protect the Temple Mount
by Hershel Shanks

(from The Washington Post, Opinion Columns, July 17, 2000)

The world's patrimony is being carried off in dump trucks.

All who care about the archaeological remains on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where Solomon's temple once stood and later Herod's temple, should be incensed at Israel's failure to stop the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that controls the site, from illegally destroying precious remnants of history important to Muslims as well as to Jews and Christians.

The Waqf has been destroying our history for nearly three decades without interference from Israeli authorities, despite the country's strict antiquities laws. In late 1999 in the guise of building an emergency exit from the underground area known as Solomon's Stables (which has been converted into a mosque), the Waqf began removing hundreds of truckloads of archaeologically rich material and dumped it in the Kidron valley. Ultimately, it removed more than 6,000 tons of earth, allowing the creation of what the police commander of the Jerusalem District called a "monumental entry gate" 200 feet long and 75 feet wide.

More recently, Waqf trucks once again have been observed entering and leaving the Temple Mount, carrying building materials on and moving earth off. Stacks of paving stones, scaffolding, wood and iron materials near the Golden Gate, as well as two small construction sheds, give credence to the report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that the Waqf is planning to erect a fourth mosque on the Temple Mount.

An open letter in June, signed by former and current Jerusalem mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert, 82 members of parliament across the political spectrum, Amos Oz and other well-known writers, former army chiefs of staff, presidents of Israel's universities, professors of archaeology and members of Israel's law faculties, called the work of the Waqf "a serious act of irreparable archaeological vandalism and destruction."

Barak finally addressed the issue recently, declaring that he remained committed to preserving the status quo." The Jerusalem Post called the statement "Orwellian." There is no doubt that the work is illegal. No construction is permitted in areas with archaeological remains without permission from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Even with a permit the work must be done, under archaeological supervision.

As early as the 1970s the Waqf used a bulldozer to dig an illegal trench for utility lines that uncovered an ancient wall six feet wide and 16 feet long. The wall was removed before archaeologists could record and study it.

A 1983 editorial in Biblical Archaeology Review decried the Waqf's destruction of evidence that supported the views of a Hebrew University professor as to the precise location of the ancient Israelite temple. We wrote, "It seems obvious that no excavations for any purpose should be permitted on the Temple Mount except by qualified professional archaeologists. After the archaeologists finish their work, the excavated area can be used for non-archeologic purposes if no ancient remains are found."

In 1986 a suit was brought against the government and the Waqf seeking an injunction against further destruction of archaeological remains. The Waqf ignored the suit, because in its view any response might be a recognition of Israeli sovereignty. The government, however, opposed the suit.

Nevertheless, the then-district archaeologist for Jerusalem filed an affidavit stating that the Waqf systematically had destroyed, damaged or covered up archaeological remains. Israel's Supreme Court did not hand down its decision until 1993; it found that the Waqf had violated the country's antiquities laws; many of the 35 violations involved irreversible destruction of important archaeological remains. Even after the suit had been filed, the Waqf continued illegal construction, the court found. The Waqf ignored Antiquity Authority officials who instructed it not to build over or cover archeological remains or archeologically significant areas. The court nevertheless denied an injunction, expressing confidence that Israeli authorities would in the future correct their past errors.

The Temple Mount is the patrimony of the world. Israel is responsible for ensuring the preservation of archaeological remains on the Temple Mount. It has been suggested that Barak's reluctance to act stems from fears that it would adversely affect the peace process or might lead to violence. But the rule seems to be that during the negotiation process, neither side is to change the status quo. It is the Waqf that is changing the situation. And if Israel cannot prevent destruction of archaeological remains on the Temple Mount without Arab violence, perhaps Israel should know that now. On the other hand, the anticipation of violence may well show disrespect for the good common sense of the Arab world.


New archaeological site unveiled near Western Wall

By The Associated Press
Last update - 20:34 27/09/2005

Israel unveiled an underground archaeological site near the Western Wall 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, or Mikveh, 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 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 recent discoveries of artifacts and infrastructure dating back thousands of years, including one of the world's oldest aqueducts.

Israel has been conducting archaeological digs near the Western Wall since it captured east Jerusalem and its Old City in the 1967 Six Day 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 by Muslims 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. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capitals.

In 1996, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the opening of an archaeological tunnel alongside the compound, triggering Palestinian riots in which 80 people were killed.

In September 2000, then-opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, visited the mosque compound. The next day, violence erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, evolving into a nearly five-year-long Palestinian uprising.

Adnan Husseini, the head of the Waqf, or Islamic Trust, that oversees the compound, condemned the digs and Israel's intention to open the site to the public as a "confiscation" of Muslim property.

"Anything they do in the place means deepening their attacks on the Islamic Waqf," Husseini said.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall, said he was not concerned violence would erupt after Israel opens the site because it does not extend underneath the mosque compound.

Jewish religious decrees forbid digging in the compound, for fear archaeologists would inadvertently enter the "holiest of holies," the most sacred site in the temple, he said.

The latest findings and the high-tech center are meant to link the past with the future and draw more Israeli children to the Western Wall, Rabinovitch said.

"Any discovery brings great excitement," he said. "It's part of our Jewish heritage."


Mecca Conference Criticized for Hypocrisy on Holy Site Destruction

By Sherrie Gossett Staff Writer
December 29, 2005

( - Leaders of a recent conference in Mecca, which emphasized the safeguarding of historic and holy Islamic sites in Jerusalem, are being criticized for turning a blind eye to the reported destruction of such sites in Saudi Arabia. Their statements condemning terrorism have also been criticized.

Representatives of 57 countries, including the prime minister of Malaysia and King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz, who holds the title "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques," attended the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which held its summit Dec. 7-8 in Mecca.

The summit was convened to address "internal and external threats" facing the wider Muslim community -- or "Ummah" -- in the 21st century.

The OIC was founded in Morocco on Sept. 25, 1969, following an arson attack against the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Aug. 21 of that year.

Moral outrage over what the OIC still calls a "Zionist" attack has been an organizing principle of the conference ever since, even though the perpetrator of the arson turned out to be a deranged Australian tourist who belonged to a Christian sect.

While the December summit tackled diverse issues such as poverty, disaster relief and terrorism, a uniting theme was concern for the safety and state of historic Islamic sites in Al-Quds (Jerusalem), including the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Documents issued by the conference indicated that member states should make contributions to "preserve the holy sites in the city of Al-Quds" and "safeguard the sacred city's cultural and historic landmarks and Arab-Islamic identity." The documents cited the need to counter "the judaization of the Holy City."

A statement released by the OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu warned of "illegal Israeli practices" and "aggressions" that aim to alter "historic landmarks."

In a report issued the month before the conference, the secretary expressed "grave concern" over the "deteriorating condition of religious and historical sites" in Jerusalem due to "Israeli practices" such as excavations and the building of the separation wall.

The OIC should "spare no effort to preserve the Islamic historical and religious identity of Al-Quds Al-Sharif," wrote Ihsanoglu.

OIC leaders also cited the need to counter the "desecration of Islamic holy sites."

"It is very ironic," said Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs. "The same place where they had their meeting, not one mile away, there are Islamic landmarks much more important in Islamic history than all Islamic landmarks in Jerusalem, that are being destroyed."

Prophet Mohammed's childhood home set to be demolished

Al-Ahmed, a Saudi scholar and expert on Saudi political affairs, estimates that the majority of Islamic landmarks in Saudi Arabia have already been destroyed. Islamic architecture expert Sami Angawi told media earlier this year that at least 300 historical buildings have been leveled in Mecca and Medina over the past 50 years.

"A telling example is the house where the Prophet Mohammed was born and [another] house he lived in until he was 29 are going to be demolished," Al-Ahmed said. Also destroyed was the 18th -century Ottoman-era Ajyad Fort. "They destroyed it at night. They blew up the hill where the fort was situated to make room for hotels," Al-Ahmed said.

In 2002, the Saudi Embassy released a statement saying the fort was not listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and that the Saudi government had called for its "rebuilding by experts in the same traditional way it was first built and at the same location, albeit not on Bulbul Hill."

Other reportedly destroyed sites cited by Al-Ahmed include: the first house in Islam, where the prophet Mohamed held secret meetings with his followers, which was destroyed in the 1980s; the houses of the prophet in Medina, where he lived for the last 10 years of his life; the Al-Fadik mosque in Medina built during Mohammed's life and destroyed in July 2003; and the Ali Al-Oraidi Mosque and Shrine in Medina destroyed in 2004. "It had been in operation for 1,200 years," said Al-Ahmed.

Behind the destruction is the Wahhabist strain of Islam, which seeks to destroy any revered physical structures that clerics believe could lead believers to idolatry, said Al-Ahmed. Real-estate development, especially around Mecca and Medina, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year, is also a major factor.

Religious politics also plays a role. When authorities allegedly destroyed one of the five renowned "Seven Mosques" built by the Prophet Mohammed's daughter and four of his "greatest Companions," Wahhabists were approving. "The mosques are not welcomed by Wahhabis," said Al-Ahmed. "It's partly political. They don't want Shia to go there to pray."

Where the Abu Bakr mosque stood, there is now an ATM machine, said Al-Ahmed. The home in which the founder of Islam grew up is slated to be destroyed, as well as his birthplace, which has a library built over it. Two major battlefields with both historic and religious significance have also reportedly been paved over.

In June of last year, the Islamic Supreme Council of America called for the support of the world community, UNESCO and the United Nations to stop the destruction of venerated Muslim sites in Saudi Arabia.

The exclusive emphasis of the OIC on the danger such sites in Jerusalem allegedly face at the hands of Israeli Jews is a "highly selective politicization of the issue," said Al-Ahmed. "Jerusalem is actually more authentic than Mecca today -- the preservation is much better than that of Mecca," he said.

If a historic Islamic site in Jerusalem such as the Dome of the Rock were ever to be destroyed, Al-Ahmed said, "we'd have a bloodbath."

By comparison, Al-Ahmed noted the irony of a tape of the late Sheikh Mohammed bin Othaimeen, who he described as the "number one Wahhabi cleric."

"On the tape he says, 'We hope one day we'll be able to destroy the dome of the Prophet Mohammed," al-Ahmed quoted bin Othaimeen as saying in reference to the "Green Dome" (Gunbad-e-Khadra), under which Mohammed is buried in the Al Nabawi Sharif mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

Al-Ahmed's Institute for Gulf Affairs is planning a report and a conference on the issue in the upcoming year. The report will contain commissioned photographs and details of the destruction.

"Throughout the centuries, Muslims had no problem preserving these sites; now, we have this new Islam that wants to destroy them. It is very sad and very disturbing," Al-Ahmed added.

The OIC summit also addressed terrorism and social and political issues in several documents it issued. Calls for solidarity among the 57 member nations were accented by the voiced need to "counter foreign threats" and "reject unilateral sanctions."

The OIC jointly condemned "the alarming phenomenon of "Islamophobia" and noted the "moral obligation" of Western powers to provide socio-economic aid for its part in causing harm over the years to Muslims. The OIC also resuscitated the idea of establishing an International Islamic Court of Justice in Kuwait to settle matters between member states.

'Criminalize every single terrorist practice'

Leaders at the summit affirmed the need to "criminalize every single terrorist practice" and supported the establishment of an International Counter-Terrorism Center as endorsed by the Riyadh International Conference on Combating Terrorism.

While all of the summary documents issued by the OIC condemned terrorism, the secretary general's report noted the "lack of consensus on the definition of the term" and "insisted on its differentiation from the right to resist aggression, foreign occupation and self-defense."

The statements don't carry much weight with those serious about counter-terrorism, according to Yehudit Barsky, director of the Middle East and International Terrorism department at the American Jewish Committee headquartered in New York City.

"This is very similar to previous statements made by Arab countries and by the Arab League," said Barksy. "They leave the door open for what they call resistance movements. Legitimizing resistance movements is legitimizing terrorism."

Nihad Awad, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), attended the Mecca summit. He did not respond to a request from Cybercast News Service for comment on the conference, nor did he respond to a request to give his opinion of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine and whether he believes their use of violence is justified.

Regarding CAIR's previous condemnations of terrorism and violence against "innocent" civilians, Awad also did not respond to the following question: "Do you believe Israeli victims of suicide bombings are 'innocent victims,' or are they legitimate targets of violent resistance...?"


Jerusalem Muslim leader calls for halt in Israeli excavation project
By RAVI NESSMAN (Associated Press Writer)
Associated Press

JERUSALEM - The top Muslim cleric in the Holy Land on Tuesday called on Israel to halt work on an archaeological project near a disputed holy site, saying continuing the dig would inflame tensions in the region.

Israeli authorities recently unveiled an underground site that strengthens Jewish ties to the hilltop compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary.

The compound was the site of the biblical Jewish temples, and is considered so holy that many observant Jews will not go there for fear of defiling it. It currently houses the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and is revered by Muslims as the place where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Israel has conducted archaeological digs near the compound since it captured the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast War. The digs infuriate the Palestinians and the Islamic Trust that oversees the mosque complex. The competing claims to the site have often acted as a catalyst for Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

In September, Israel unveiled a tourist center at the underground site near the compound that details the Jewish connection to the site. The center showcases a ritual bath from the period of the second Jewish Temple, destroyed in 70 A.D., and a wall archaeologists say dates to the first Jewish Temple, destroyed in 586 B.C.

The top Muslim clergyman, or mufti, of Jerusalem, Ikrema Sabri, called the archaeological project an "aggression" that threatened the mosque compound and demanding an immediate end to the digs.

"These violations and aggression lead to tension in the region," he said Tuesday.

In 1996, Palestinians rioted after Israel opened an archaeological tunnel alongside the compound. Eighty people were killed in the violence.

In September 2000, then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the mosque compound. The next day, violence erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, evolving into a nearly five-year Palestinian uprising that killed more than 3,500 people on the Palestinian side and more than 1,000 people on the Israeli side.

Sabri and other local Muslim leaders also accused Israel of opening a synagogue in the newly opened site, which they considered a challenge to their own claims to the compound.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall, said there was no new synagogue at the site and the digs did not go into the compound.

"It's lies and there is nothing behind what they are saying," he said.

Sheik Raed Salah, a radical leader of Israel's Islamic Movement, called the excavations a "black stain" on Israel and accused the government of plotting to destroy the mosques to build a new temple.

"You are inviting an uprising against you just to stop your attack on the mosque," he said.

Israel has repeatedly denied any plans to damage the mosques and has stopped several attempts by Jewish extremists to destroy the shrines.

"The third temple will not be built by people. As we know in the Jewish faith it will be built by God," Rabinovitch said.


Destroy Egypt's Antiquities?

When the Islamic Republic of Iran first came to power in 1979, some of its leaders made noises about the need to destroy the pagan structures at Persepolis, with its many idolatrous elements, but saner heads prevailed and the ruins have survived. In March 2001, the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan did in fact destroy a giant statue of the Buddha at Bamiyan. The Saudi rulers in recent years have destroyed ancient buildings and sites in Mecca and Medina (for a shocking account of this, see Daniel Howden, " The destruction of Mecca: Saudi hardliners are wiping out their own heritage").

Now word comes that Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt issued a fatwa ruling that the exhibition of statues in homes is prohibited. Although he did not mention statues in museums or public places, some Egyptians fear that the ruling could encourage attacks against the thousands of Pharaonic statues both in situ and in museums. Worries Gamal al-Ghitani, editor of the literary magazine Akhbar al-Adab: "We don't rule out that someone will enter the Karnak temple in Luxor or any other pharaonic temple and blow it up on the basis of the fatwa."

Comment: It is bad enough when Islamist regimes threaten or actually do destroy historical, cultural, and artistic artifacts; have we now reached the point that even standard-issue Muslim regimes feel compelled to take such steps? (April 3, 2006)

Apr. 11, 2006 update: Youssef Ibrahim, an Egyptian writer, rues what the Gomaa fatwa might lead to:

Should we prep for a Taliban-style orgy in Egypt? Melting gold statues of King Tut (Tutankhamen is his full name); smashing Cleopatra images; dynamiting the magnificent temples of Karnak; blowing up the Valleys of the Kings and Queens in Luxor; bulldozing the majestic Fila temple; burning Roman, Greek, and early Christian icons, and sacking treasures of civilization in Egyptian museums up and down the Nile Valley?

Ibrahim notes that Gomaa "is no lightweight" but someone who carries much clout in Egypt. Further, some leading religious figures "rushed to his support," including Yusuf al-Qardawi, an Egyptian who lives in Qatar and is considered by some the most influential Sunni mufti alive, who wrote that Islam has "proscribed all that leads to paganism or smells of it – statues of ancient Egyptians included."

That no one of importance has stood up to this fatwa, Ibrahim concludes, "is catastrophic."


Mediaeval inscription sparks political spat

June 14, 2006

ANKARA: An inscription at a medieval dungeon translated as “Where God does not exist” caused a politically-charged spat in Turkey yesterday as the Islamist-rooted government faced accusations of having ordered the erasure of the sign.

Newspapers quoted the head of the Archaeology Museum in Bodrum, Yasar Yildiz, as saying that the culture ministry ordered the 500-year-old inscription scraped away after government inspectors decided that it had “no historical and archaeological value”.

The Latin inscription – Inde deus abest translated as “Where God does not exist” – is carved at the entrance to a dungeon in the Castle of St Peter in Bodrum, an Aegean resort popular with foreign tourists.

It is believed to have been written by the Knights of St Peter, a mediaeval order of crusaders, who built the castle in the 15th century and used the dungeon as a torture chamber.

The spat comes at a time when the government, the offshoot of the now-banned Islamist Welfare Party, is accused of seeking to raise the profile of Islam in mainly Muslim but strictly secular Turkey.

The former head of the Bodrum museum charged that the inscription had first irked the Welfare government, which ruled Turkey for a year until June 1997 when it was forced to resign for undermining the secular system.

“They wanted to eradicate it on the grounds that there cannot be a place where Allah is not present. The same mentality has taken action again,” Oguz Alpozen told Sabah.

Culture Minister Atilla Koc said yesterday that he ordered an investigation into the inscription last year, following complaints by visitors.

Koc said the inspectors concluded the inscription was not authentic and was carved in 1994 during restoration work.
A new investigation would be carried out, he said, adding that the sign would stay as it is until the probe is completed.
Museum officials had already removed a sign with the English and Turkish translations of the writing, newspapers said.

The Castle of St Peter is today a museum of underwater archaeology displaying shipwrecks and other undersea finds. – AFP


Israeli excavation in Jerusalem stirs Muslim anger

06 Feb 2007

Source: Reuters

By Jonathan Saul

JERUSALEM, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Israeli excavation work on Tuesday near an entrance to a compound in Jerusalem that houses the al-Aqsa mosque drew Palestinian protests and Israeli assurances the dig would not harm Islam's third holiest shrine.

Israeli police stationed reinforcements in the alleyways of Jerusalem's walled Old City to head off feared Palestinian violence at a flashpoint site at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israel's Antiquities Authority said it was searching for artifacts at the base of the compound known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount before construction of a pedestrian bridge to replace a ramp leading up to the complex.

Two bulldozers began breaking up parts of the pavement at the foot of the ramp, damaged by a snowstorm and an earthquake in 2004, to clear the way for what the authority called a "salvage excavation."

After an all-clear from the authority that no artifacts remain, plans can be finalized for the 100-metre (yard) pedestrian bridge to the Mughrabi Gate entrance to Haram al-Sharif, which overlooks Judaism's Western Wall.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said before leaving for unity talks with the rival Fatah movement in Mecca that Israel was out to cause "direct harm" to the silver-domed al-Aqsa.

"I appeal to all our Palestinian people to be united and to rise up together to protect al-Aqsa and the holy sites on the blessed land of Palestine," Haniyeh said.

Israeli officials said the excavation work, some 50 meters (yards) from the existing ramp, would do no harm to al-Aqsa or the Dome of the Rock mosque which is also located on the hilltop compound where the two biblical Jewish temples once stood.

"Nothing in the work touches the wall of the Temple Mount. The wall is firmly embedded in the rock and there is no way that such work can cause damage to the Roman walls of the Temple Mount," said Gideon Avni, the Antiquities Authority's director of excavations.


Avni said the project had not been coordinated with the Islamic trust, or Waqf, that administers Haram al-Sharif.

"The excavations site is open to archaeologists, engineers, professionals. We are not hiding anything. Everything will be displayed to the public. The Waqf is invited to come and look at the results and give their comments," he said.

Taysir Tamimi, head of the Islamic courts in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, called on "all Palestinians to go and protect al-Aqsa against Israeli plans that aim to destroy the mosque."

In Bethlehem, crowds of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers outside Rachel's Tomb, a holy site at the entrance to the West Bank city. The soldiers responded with tear gas.

"There is no doubt that violence will not be preventable -- if not today, then tomorrow or next week," said Abu Mohammed, a 29-year-old Palestinian taxi driver from East Jerusalem.

"Why do they need to do this, to create the chance for blood to be spilled," he asked. "All we want is to live in peace without anything like this."

Israel's opening of an entrance to an archaeological tunnel near Haram al-Sharif in 1996 touched off violent Palestinian protests and led to clashes in which 61 Arabs and 15 Israeli soldiers were killed.

A Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000 after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon toured the compound.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 conflict in a step that has not been recognized internationally. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future state.


Archeologists slam authorities over Muslim dig

Jerusalem Post
Aug 28, 2007
A group of Israeli archeologists on Monday renewed their blistering condemnation of the Antiquities Authority for authorizing Muslim officials to carry out a dig on Jerusalem's Temple Mount with tractors and other heavy equipment as part of infrastructure work to repair faulty electrical lines on the ancient compound.

The work started last month on the northern section of the Temple Mount in the area of the outer courts of the ancient Jewish Temples with the approval of the Israel Police and the state-run Antiquities Authority, Israeli and Islamic officials said. Independent Israeli archeologists said that the work left a 100-meter-long and roughly 1-1.5 meter deep trench, and has damaged the site.

"This is a barbaric action on the most sensitive place in archeology of the Jewish nation," said Bar-Ilan University archeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai, a member of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

Barkai said that work carried out at the site on Monday - which eyewitnesses say was done with an Antiquties Authority official present - was the most damaging to date.

"If this was done with the Antiquities Authority supervision it is even worse, because the crime was done before our very eyes," he added.

The non-partisan group of Israeli archeologists and intellectuals from across the political spectrum has previously lambasted Israel's chief archeological body for permitting the work at the site but Monday's damage prompted them to issue their harshest criticism of the state-run archeological body to date.

"It is outrageous that the Antiquities Authority is taking part in an archeological crime by pretending they are supervising the site while they are in fact witnessing the crime as it takes place," said group spokeswoman Dr. Eilat Mazar, a leading Temple Mount expert.

Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Dalit Menzin declined to comment on the issue.

According to decades-old regulations in place at the Temple Mount, Israel maintains overall security control at the site, while the Wakf, or Islamic Trust, is charged with day- to-day administration of the ancient compound. Jerusalem police have said that in coordination with the Antiquities Authority they had given Islamic officials approval for the work.

Wakf director Azzam Khatib said that the work followed an electrical shortage in the al Aksa Mosque.

The Antiquities Authority, which by law is charged with supervising Israel's archeological sites, has in the past been criticized by the apolitical group of archeologists for overlooking large-scale Islamic construction on the site which resulted in archeological damage because of the political sensitivities involved.