Israeli Police Orders Muslim-Christian News Conference on Holy Site Cancelled

Israeli police on Wednesday banned a news conference by Muslim and Christian opponents to Israeli excavation work near a disputed holy site.

Police went to the Commodore Hotel in east Jerusalem and delivered an order canceling the event because it was organized by the Palestinian Hamas militant group, whose activities are prohibited in Israel, police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.

The mufti of Jerusalem, the leader of Israel's Islamic Movement and a Roman Orthodox archbishop in the city were to speak against the renovation, which began with an archaeological dig earlier this month.

Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement, has organized protests at the site and police banned him from the area for more than two months.

The dispute over the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, has triggered violence in the past and scuttled several attempts at peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The site — home to the Al Aqsa mosque and the gold-capped Dome of the Rock — is Islam's third-holiest shrine, and the dig has inflamed Muslim fears that Israel is planning to damage it.

Israel says the dig is meant to salvage archaeological finds ahead of the construction of a new pedestrian walkway up to the hilltop compound, to replace one damaged in a 2004 snowstorm. Israeli archaeologists insist there is no danger to the compound.