Israel reopens ramp after Muslim anger

Israel reopens ramp after Muslim anger

Israel reopens ramp after Muslim anger

Ultra-Orthodox Jews look at graffiti sprayed outside the disused Nebi Akasha Mosque that was torched yesterday by vandals in Jerusalem. REUTERS photo

Israel yesterday reopened a controversial wooden access ramp to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, just over 48 hours after it was closed on safety grounds in a move that had sparked Muslim anger.

“It was opened this morning,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, saying it was “open as normal for visitors, both Christian and Jewish.” He said no work had been carried out to stabilize or alter the ramp, but pointed out that a fire engine had been stationed nearby and other unspecified safety precautions put in place. “It hasn’t been touched yet, nobody has changed anything,” he said.
“The decision was made by the municipality that it can be used again.”

The structure has been at the center of a complex row between the city council and the Jewish and Muslim groups which respectively oversee the Western Wall plaza and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound next to it. The city says the ramp poses a fire hazard and could collapse onto the women’s prayer section by the Western Wall. But Muslim leaders fear the demolition could have a destabilizing effect on the mosque compound and accuse Israel of failing to coordinate the renovation with the Waqf, which oversees Islamic heritage sites.

The ramp was closed the night of Dec. 10, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an apparent about-face, on Dec.13 ordered the existing ramp be strengthened to make it safe. The closure of the ramp had been angrily denounced by Palestinian officials, with presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina saying it was an “attack” on efforts to revive the peace talks, while Gaza’s Hamas rulers said it was a “declaration of religious war” on Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. The Mughrabi ramp runs from the plaza by the Western Wall up to the walled compound known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Media reports said that in the coming days the ramp would be fireproofed and stabilized.

Vandals torch Jerusalem mosque

Meanwhile, a Jerusalem mosque was torched yesterday, provoking calls in Israel for a more effective crackdown on Jewish extremists suspected in a string of increasingly brazen acts of violence. The Israeli government has vowed to root out and punish the assailants, who in recent months have expanded their actions from the West Bank into Israel proper. But an attack on a Muslim site in Jerusalem, the contested holy city at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, raises the stakes further. The words “price tag” were spray-painted on the mosque in a reference to Jewish extremists’ practice of exacting retribution for government action against settlements. Anti-Muslim graffiti such as “A good Arab is a dead Arab” was also scrawled at the scene, according to an Associated Press report. Other acts of vandalism were reported in two Palestinian cities in the West Bank, where the military reported cars were set afire and hate graffiti was scrawled.