Dispute disrupts reopening of revered Jerusalem archaeological site

A group of ultra-Orthodox Jews pressed to pay for entrance despite not following the official procedures required to visit the site. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 June 2019
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Dispute disrupts reopening of revered Jerusalem archaeological site

  • The site was closed since 2010
  • Visitors were required to pre-register online

JERUSALEM: France reopened a revered but long-closed archaeological site in the heart of Jerusalem on Thursday, but a dispute over access immediately disrupted its reopening.
France, the owner of the site known as the Tomb of the Kings, reopened it to visits after having kept it closed since 2010.
But concerns that it would become more of a site of religious pilgrimage than an archaeological one immediately reemerged.
Around 15 people who had pre-registered online as required were allowed to visit, but a group of more than a dozen ultra-Orthodox Jews who consider the site holy pressed to enter and pray there despite not having followed procedures.
They were prevented from entering since French officials had limited visits to 15 people at once during set times due to the sensitivity of the site.
Ultra-Orthodox denied access pressed toward the gate when it was opened to try to enter.
The first group of visitors was initially blocked inside and eventually exited through a second gate, accompanied by police.
The incident highlighted concerns over the site and may bring into question whether it will remain open to the public.
France’s Jerusalem consulate had said in advance that the reopening would take place under pre-arranged rules.
The 2,000-year-old archaeological gem had been closed since 2010 due to renovations costing around a $1.1 million.
It is a remarkable example of a Roman-era tomb, considered among the largest in the region.
Its unique status, Jewish veneration of the burial site and its location in the disputed city added to complications in reopening it.
Archaeological sites in east Jerusalem, where the tomb is located, are often freighted with religious significance and questions linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel occupied mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
It sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians view the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
There has been a challenge at Israel’s rabbinical court — which rules on matters related to Jewish law and holy sites — over access to the tomb and France’s ownership.
Before reopening the site, France sought guarantees from Israel it would not face legal challenges as well as commitments on how visits would be managed.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews describe the tomb as a holy burial site of ancient ancestors.


Turkey blocked from US F-35 program after Russian missile purchase

Updated 20 min 17 sec ago
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Turkey blocked from US F-35 program after Russian missile purchase

  • “The US and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program"

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Wednesday that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, a move that had been long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system last week.
The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military air base northwest of Ankara on Friday, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia, which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.
“The US and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” said Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.
“The United States is spending between $500 and $600 million in non-recurring engineering in order to shift the supply chain,” she said.
Used by NATO and other US allies, the F-35 stealth fighter jet is the world’s most advanced jet fighter. Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information of the stealth system.
“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.
Washington has long said the acquisition may lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program.
The Pentagon had already laid out a plan to remove Turkey from the program, including halting any new training for Turkish pilots on the advanced aircraft.
“The situation with Turkey is a government-to-government matter and we’ll comply with any guidance issued by the United States Government,” said a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin Corp. , the prime contractor on the jet.