Last updated: 25 October, 2011

Jerusalem council orders renovation of Al-Aqsa access ramp

Jerusalem’s city council on Tuesday said that it had ordered the controversial demolition of an access ramp to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, in a move that could spark Muslim protest.

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.

The ramp leads from the Western Wall, the most sacred site at which Jews can pray, to the adjoining compound that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.

Jews venerate the site 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.

The order from the city council was addressed to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which manages the plaza next to the ramp.

It said the foundation must demolish the structure within 30 days and begin building a new one.

In its letter to the foundation, dated October 23 and made available to AFP on Tuesday, the council cited the findings of the city engineer and fire and emergency services that the ramp, known as the Mughrabi Bridge, was “a danger.”

It ordered the foundation to “dismantle the temporary access ramp to the Temple Mount and build it using non-flammable materials.”

The council has warned in the past of the potential danger posed by the structure, which is constructed from wooden planks supported by metal scaffolding.

If the foundation failed to comply, the city would carry out the work itself and pass them the bill.

But work to renovate the ramp has been hampered by the sensitivity of the site, and claims by the Islamic Waqf, which oversees the plaza.

Renovations were suspended four years ago following a wave of protest across the Muslim world over fears that the construction endangered Islamic structures.

The director of the Waqf told AFP on Tuesday that the group considers the ramp to be under their sole jurisdiction.

“The position of the Waqf has been clear since the collapse of the Mughrabi ramp, which is that the Waqf is responsible for its restoration and return to its condition pre-February 2004,” Sheikh Azzam Khatib said.

“We have informed the Israeli authorities that we have a reconstruction committee and crews that are capable of restoring it properly,” he added.