Tensions between France, Israelis continue over opening of contested Jewish tomb

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In this Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 photo, The French tricolor flutters over the Tomb of the Kings, a large underground burial complex dating to the first century BC, as Muslims past bay the iron gate in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (AP)
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In this Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 photo, ultra-Orthodox Jews visits the Tomb of the Kings, a large underground burial complex dating to the first century BC, in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (AP)
Updated 08 November 2019

Tensions between France, Israelis continue over opening of contested Jewish tomb

  • The French Consulate General reopened the Tomb of the Kings last month despite a dispute over access to the archaeological-cum-holy site
  • Israeli nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jews who seek open worship at the tomb challenge France's ownership of the site

JERUSALEM: Tensions continue between French authorities and Israelis continue after France reopened one of Jerusalem's ancient tombs to the public for the first-time last month in over a decade.
After several aborted attempts, the French Consulate General reopened the Tomb of the Kings last month despite a dispute over access to the archaeological-cum-holy site in the city's volatile eastern half.
Israeli nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jews who seek open worship at the tomb challenge France's ownership of the site.
France, which has managed the property since the late 19th century, closed the site for an extensive $1.1 million restoration in 2009. The French flag flutters over the site's massive black gate marked with the words "Republique Francaise."
In 1878, a French Jewish woman purchased the property through the French consul in Jerusalem, and eight years later one of her heirs donated it to the French government.
Today, most archaeologists contend it belonged to Queen Helena, a Mesopotamian monarch who converted to Judaism in the first century BC. Adiabene was an ancient Assyrian kingdom whose rulers converted to Judaism. One of the sarcophagi at the Louvre bears an inscription mentioning a "Queen Saddan," possibly a relative of the Adiabenian queen.
"Altogether, I think there is a scholarly agreement that this tomb should be associated with Helena," Peleg-Barkat said.
The Tomb of the Kings is an underground burial complex dating to the first century BC and "definitely one of the most elaborately decorated tombs that we have from the early Roman period in Jerusalem," said Orit Peleg-Barkat, a Hebrew University archaeologist. Access to the interior burial chambers is prohibited.
Jews who worship at the tomb believe it is the resting place of several prominent Jewish figures from antiquity, including the revered queen and her relatives, and that praying there will help bring rain and good financial fortune. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have called for the site to open without restrictions for prayer.
The surrounding east Jerusalem neighborhood of the tomb, however, is predominantly Palestinian. In this volatile city, visits by large numbers of religious Jews to a spot in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood runs the risk of raising tensions or even sparking violence.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed it, a move unrecognized by most of the international community. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Israel considers the entire city its capital.
Yonathan Mizrachi, head of Emek Shaveh, an Israeli organization against the politicization of archaeology, said the tomb's location in Sheikh Jarrah is what makes it so "politically problematic" for French authorities.
The past decade has seen a rise in Israeli nationalists buying properties and evicting longtime Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah and other east Jerusalem neighborhoods. Just north of the Tomb of the Kings, an enclave of Israeli homes has grown around another ancient tomb in Sheikh Jarrah — that of Simeon the Just — where ultra-Orthodox Jews pray.


Libya’s Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

Updated 12 min 28 sec ago

Libya’s Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

  • Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna
  • The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord

TRIPOLI: Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government captured the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli on Friday, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive on the capital.
Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army, LNA, said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna. They headed toward Sirte, far along the coast, and the air base of Al-Jufra in central Libya. The LNA made no immediate official comment.
The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord, GNA, and allied forces across most of northwest Libya, reversing many of Haftar’s gains from last year when he raced toward Tripoli.
The United Nations has started holding talks with both sides for a cease-fire deal in recent days, though previous truces have not stuck. The GNA gains could entrench the de facto partition of Libya into zones controlled by rival eastern and western governments whose foreign backers compete for regional sway.
Turkish military support for the GNA, with drone strikes, air defenses and a supply of allied Syrian fighters, was key to its recent successes. Ankara regards Libya as crucial to defending its interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
However, the LNA still retains its foreign support. Washington said last week Moscow had sent warplanes to LNA-held Jufra, though Russia and the LNA denied this.
The United Nations says weapons and fighters have flooded into the country in defiance of an arms embargo, risking a deadlier escalation. Meanwhile, a blockade of oil ports by eastern-based forces has almost entirely cut off energy revenue and both administrations face a looming financial crisis.
Stronghold

Located in the hills southeast of Tripoli, Tarhouna had functioned as a forward base for Haftar’s assault on the capital. Its swift fall suggests Haftar’s foreign supporters were less willing to sustain his bid to take over the entire country once Turkey intervened decisively to stop him.
The GNA operations room said in a statement that its forces had captured Tarhouna after entering from four sides. Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident, said GNA forces had entered the town.
Videos and photographs posted online appeared to show GNA forces inside Tarhouna cheering and hugging each other and firing into the air.
“The Libyan government forces are rapidly moving in an organized manner and with armed drones. There could be a solution at the table, but Haftar’s forces are losing ground in every sense,” said a Turkish official.