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.


Turkey’s Fatih drill ship starts operations off northeast Cyprus

Updated 24 min 58 sec ago

Turkey’s Fatih drill ship starts operations off northeast Cyprus

  • Turkey said it is operating on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights
  • Yavuz is another Turkish drillship off the west coast of Cyprus

ANKARA: The Turkish oil-and-gas drilling ship Fatih has started its operations off the coast of northeastern Cyprus, Turkish vice president Fuat Oktay said on Friday, despite warnings from European Union for Ankara to stand down.
On Monday, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted a framework for restrictive measures against Turkey over its drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey, a formal candidate to join the EU despite worsening ties, criticized the decision and said it would not cease drilling because it is operating on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights.
Another Turkish drillship, Yavuz, is off the west coast of Cyprus.