Israel to close controversial ramp

Israel to close controversial ramp

JERUSALEM- Agence France-Presse
Israel to close controversial ramp

A wooden bridge leading to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known by the Jewish community as the Temple Mount, is seen in this photo of Jerusalem’s Old City. AP photo

Jerusalem’s city council has ordered the closure within a week of a wooden access ramp to the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City, saying the structure was “a threat to public safety.”

City engineer Shlomo Eshkol issued the order “to close the structure and not allow any use of it” in a letter sent to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation which is responsible for the upkeep of the structure, known as the Mughrabi Ramp.

The wooden structure has been at the centre of a complex row between the Jerusalem municipality and the groups that oversee the Muslim and Jewish parts of the plaza that houses the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa mosque compound located adjacent to it.

The municipality says the wooden ramp poses both a fire hazard and is at risk of collapse, both of which could have catastrophic consequences as the ramp runs above the women’s prayer section in front of the Western Wall. But Muslim leaders fear work on the ramp could have a destabilizing effect and accuse Israeli authorities of failing to coordinate renovation plans with the Waqf, the Islamic organization that has jurisdiction over Muslim parts of the site.

The ramp leads from the Western Wall, the most sacred site at which Jews can pray, to the adjoining compound, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Jews venerate the plaza as the Temple Mount, where King Herod’s temple once stood before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

It is the holiest site in Judaism, but Jews are forbidden to worship there. The ramp was erected in 2004 as a temporary measure after the collapse of a previous walkway, and is used by non-Muslim visitors to the historic site as well as by Israeli security forces wanting to enter the plaza.