Work begins on river dam to aid Jordan

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JERUSALEM — While the Middle East peace process appeared to be yielding to rigor mortis after Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's cheerless visit, several hundred men were engaged Sunday from dawn to dusk in preparing the ground for one of the peace process' most tangible results to date — a dam on the Yarmuk River.

The workmen were not working on the dam itself but are being employed by the Antiquities Authority to finish an archaeological excavation before the site is covered by a runoff channel.

"We've got to do a year's work in three months, so that the Jordanians can begin laying foundations for the dam by Nov. 1, as their agreement with Israel calls for," said Amir Drori, director-general of the authority.

The excavations at Tel Dover are being carried out in a hitherto closed military zone on the edge of the Yarmuk, west of Hamat Gader.

Israel will be giving up 3 acres of land and a portion of its archaeological heritage.

"We will be sacrificing antiquities in the interest of high policy, in the interest of peace," said Drori. "But first we want to document what there is here."

The dam will permit Jordan to use 500 million cubic meters of runoff that would be lost, and is a central element in the water agreement achieved earlier this year.

The northern edge of the dam will rest on the Israeli shore, a barren stretch of ground to which civilians have had no access. Most of this tract constitutes the lower part of Tel Dover.

The Antiquities Authority received a government allocation that permitted it to muster 260 workers and a large professional staff for the emergency dig. Many of the workers come daily from Lebanon, the rest are Israeli Jews and Arabs. The area to be destroyed constitutes only 20 percent of the tel, the rest of which is not endangered by the project.

Recent press reports have claimed that Israel was seeking to move the dam a kilometer upstream to spare the site. That would have put the dam into an area claimed by Syria, something vigorously opposed by Damascus.

There were allegations National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon favored such a move in order to foreclose the possibility of the upstream area being returned to Syria in a Golan compromise.

However, Drori said the Antiquities Authority had reconciled itself to the loss of the site in the interests of peace.