Israel heightens tension over ramp, settlements
GAZA CITY / JERUSALEM
A general view shows the Mughrabi ramp leading from the plaza by the Western Wall, up to the Haram al-Sharif compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of Rock in the old city of Jerusalem. AFP photoIn the night of Dec. 11, Israel closed the Mughrabi ramp leading to the mosque compound in the Old City over public safety concerns. The move was immediately condemned by Palestinian officials and Jordan, the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
“This is a serious step showing the Zionist scheme of aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Fawzi Barhum, spokesman of Hamas government in Gaza told Agence France-Presse. “This is a violent act amounting to a declaration of religious war on the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem,” he said, calling for “Arab and Muslim mobilization to stop this serious event.”
The Jerusalem City Council says the ramp poses a fire hazard and could collapse onto the women’s prayer section by the Western Wall. But Muslim leaders fear its demolition could destabilize the mosque compound and accuse Israel of failing to coordinate its renovation with Waqf, which oversees Islamic heritage sites. The closure prompted a swift response from Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina who said it was another Israeli “attack” on efforts to revive the moribund peace talks and could shake up the region.
“These practices create a negative atmosphere in the entire region that could plunge the area into turmoil and tension,” he said. Meanwhile, Jordan’s powerful Islamists denounced the decision as “flagrant aggression.” “This is a very dangerous move,” the head of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood Hammam Said told AFP. “The only solution against this entity [Israel] is resistance in order to protect the sanctity of the holy places against such flagrant aggression.” The city’s senior Muslim cleric Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, told Reuters that Islamic religious authorities opposed demolition of the existing structure and construction of a new one. There are 15 gates leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, 10 of which are in use. The Mughrabi Gate provides the only access for non-Muslims to enter the site, meaning its closure will prevent both Jews and tourists from visiting until a replacement structure is built.
Meanwhile, Israel has given final approval to the building of 40 new homes at a settlement in the occupied West Bank, replacing temporary structures there, the settlement’s council head said yesterday. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed over a year ago in a dispute over Israeli settlement building. “Building tenders were issued this week after Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already signed off on the construction plans,” Efrat Council head Oded Revivi told Reuters.
Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the move. He noted an upcoming Jerusalem meeting of the Quartet of International Middle East Mediators. “The Israeli message to the Quartet is more settlements,” he said. “This deserves the strongest condemnation.”