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Israeli Archeological Digs Halted

December 1, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Archaeology, one of Israel’s biggest tourist attractions, suffered a blow Tuesday when most of the country’s excavations were shut down.

The Israel Antiquities Authority halted its salvage digs after the Supreme Court ruled that developers and building contractors cannot be billed for the costs of these excavations.

In the country of Jesus and King Solomon, Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin, it is almost impossible to start a building or a road without uncovering ancient remains.

In the archaeological sense, Israel is the one of the most crowded countries in the world, with some 25,000 known sites excavated or still waiting to be dug up.

Ahead of most construction projects, the Antiquities Authority carries out a salvage dig. In response to a petition from a developer, the Supreme Court ruled Sunday that the government, not the builder, must bear the costs of the salvage digs.

In response, the Antiquities Authority decided Tuesday to halt all salvage digs that account for about 300 of the 350 excavations carried out in Israel each year.

``We have no budget for salvage digs,″ said Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Osnat Gouez.

Major digs open to the public like those in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Beit Shean have been drastically curtailed for lack of government funding, Gouez said.

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