Last updated: 14 December, 2011

Israel reopens access ramp to Al-Aqsa compound

Israel on Wednesday 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 which had sparked Muslim anger.

“It was opened this morning,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, saying it was “open as as normal for visitors, both Christian and Jewish.”

He said no work had been carried out to stabilise 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 centre 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 destabilising effect on the mosque compound and accuse Israel of failing to coordinate the renovation with the Waqf, which oversees Islamic heritage sites.

It was closed on Sunday night, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an apparent about-face, on Tuesday ordered the existing ramp be strengthened to make it safe.

“The government’s decision to fortify the ramp and fix its safety shortcomings, in accordance with the city’s engineer’s orders, ensures the municipality’s preliminary demands to ensure the safety of those using it,” the city council said late on Tuesday.

Early on Wednesday, two ultra-nationalist MPs were seen entering the mosque compound via the Mughrabi ramp, an AFP correspondent said.

Small groups of national-religious Jews visit the compound on a regular basis although they are barred from praying there.

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.

Jordan’s powerful Islamists also denounced the closure as “a very dangerous move” as did the kingdom’s Islamic affairs minister.

But Israel hit back at Jordan, accusing it of repeatedly reneging on a deal to renovate the ramp, which is the only way that non-Muslims can enter the mosque compound.

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 stabilised.