Israel plans work at contested Jerusalem holy site

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:30 PM

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has given preliminary approval for renovations at a contested holy site in East Jerusalem where rebuilding has triggered violence in the past, a city official said Sunday.

Municipal planners last week approved the project to repair an earthen ramp near the Mughrabi Gate connecting the Wailing Wall remnant of an ancient Jewish temple to a complex revered by Muslims and Jews, both of whom claim the area as their own.

Meir Margalit, a city councilor, said city hall would likely give final approval this month to the planned reinforcement of the ramp damaged by a snowstorm and an earthquake in 2004.

"I was surprised to see this issue has passed quietly," Margalit said, maintaining that Palestinians and Muslim clerics had put up no objections, though Israel had been forced to halt the work in 2007 after Palestinian protests at the time.

Located in East Jerusalem's old walled city, the ramp is next to a compound Muslims know as Haram es-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site.

Jews also revere the site where two biblical temples stood and which is a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In September 2000 a visit there by Ariel Sharon, then Israeli opposition leader, triggered protests that led to years of Palestinian uprising in which thousands on both sides died.

Palestinians have argued that Israeli renovations could damage Islamic relics buried underground.

Margalit said experts from Jordan, Turkey and Europe had determined "there would be no harm to the status quo and nothing wrong" with renewing work on the ramp and that experts from Jordan and Turkey would monitor the project as it proceeds.

Israel took East Jersusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a step that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they aim to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)