Israel clears out disputed site in Muslim quarter

Israel has widened access to a revered Jewish site in the heart of the Jerusalem Old City’s Muslim quarter, a move that threatens to inflame tensions at one of the world’s most contested religious sites.

Municipal officials recently ordered the removal of scaffolding -- which propped up an arch underneath Palestinian homes -- to enlarge the courtyard in front of a small section of the ancient wall, a remnant of the Second Temple destroyed in 70 AD, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported.

The clearance will allow more Jewish worshipers to pray at the site, which lies less than a hundred metres north of the Wailing Wall, one of Judaism’s most sacred and frequented sites.

On the other side of the wall is the site once dominated by the two Jewish temples of antiquity, and Jews know it as Temple Mount. It is now the location of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

The municipality’s decision drew immediate condemnation from the Palestinians, who view such moves as an attempt by Israel to establish a dominant Jewish claim over the Old City, part of East Jerusalem, which was captured and annexed by Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967.

“Under international law, the occupying powers are not supposed to make changes, especially in places with specific cultural importance,” said Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. “Such changes are a provocation and will contribute to already growing tension in occupied East Jerusalem.”

But the move appeared to signal a victory for Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish settler group which has long campaigned for the removal of the scaffolding and which leads prayer groups at the site every Friday.

Their pleas have previously carried little weight. Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s mayor from 1965 to 1993, rejected religious groups’ appeals to remove the scaffolding because of the sensitivity of the site even though he acknowledged it was not needed to support the houses, Haaretz cited a former advisor to Mr Kollek as saying.

His fears were not unfounded. In 1996, the Old City erupted in deadly clashes when Israel opened a tunnel leading to the complex of the Al Aqsa mosque. And it was then opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the site in 2000 to assert Israeli sovereignty there that triggered the Second Intifada, the mass Palestinian uprising.

It is for that reason that many are wary of any acts that could be viewed as provocations.

“I see the Old City as a delicate ecosystem,” said Danny Seidemann, a lawyer and expert on East Jerusalem. “It is this kind of problematic move [to change access] that makes Jerusalem erupt.”

Some Palestinians still believe that the Jews intend to raze the mosques to make way for a Third Temple, which according to Jewish tradition will be built with the coming of the Messiah. Jewish groups have at times played on those insecurities, most recently with an advertising campaign that superimposed the Third Temple over the Al Aqsa mosque.

The Waqf, the Muslim council, had threatened a robust response if any changes were made to the so-called little Western Wall, next to which 17 Palestinian families live. The families, who have objected in the past to the removal of the scaffolding, said they were not consulted ahead of the alterations.

The municipality could not be reached for comment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific