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UNESCO Asks Israel to Halt Jerusalem Archaeological Digging

A UNESCO panel has urged Israel to immediately halt archaeological work at a Jerusalem holy site that has angered Muslims around the world.

Muslims fear the work will harm Islamic shrines on the hilltop compound, which is known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif) to Muslims. Excavations on a ramp leading up to the disputed holy site sparked clashes between police and Muslims in Jerusalem last month.

A report for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, released in Paris on Wednesday, said Israel should have sought the advice of international organizations before it started the archaeological work.

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The panel also said work done on the site was already sufficient to examine the structure of the ramp, and Israel "should be asked to stop immediately the archaeological excavations."

In February, however, UNESCO concluded that the excavations posed no threat to the stability of the site, and the new report also credits Israel with adhering to "professional standards."

A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, Mark Regev, said Wednesday the U.N. report proved that Israel's work would not harm Muslim holy sites.

"This totally supports our stance in that this (work) is benign," Regev said. "This publicly disputes some of the hateful messages put out there by extremists for political gain."

He would not comment on UNESCO's call to halt the work at the site or its assertion that Israel should have sought international advice before beginning to dig.