UNESCO experts tour controversial Israeli dig near Muslim holy site

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JERUSALEM -- A team of experts from UNESCO toured on Wednesday an Israeli archaeological excavation that Muslims fear could damage Islam's holiest site in Jerusalem.

Israel says the dig, 50 meters (165 feet) from a religious compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, will do no harm to the Dome of Rock and al-Aqsa mosques on the plaza, which overlooks Judaism's Western Wall.

Israeli archaeologists began what they called a "rescue excavation" at the site on February 7 to salvage artifacts before planned construction of a walkway leading up to the complex, where the two biblical Jewish Temples once stood.

The dig touched off violent Muslim protests in Arab East Jerusalem, which includes the walled Old City where the compound is located...

Israeli Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Osnat Goaz said Israel invited the group, which consists of four officials, including the director of UNESCO's World Heritage Center, as part of its efforts to display "full transparency" over the dig.

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