10/14/2004, 00.00
ISRAEL - PALESTINE
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Israel wants to limit access to al-Aqsa mosque

Israeli authorities cite risks to Muslim worshippers from collapsing structure. Muslim scholar Mustafa Abu Sway says it is "another discriminatory act against us".

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Citing concerns that a wall of the Esplanade of the Mosques might collapse the Israeli government intends to limit access to Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque beginning tomorrow till the end of the Ramadan.

Muslims have objected to the decision claiming that it was a "plot" to limit their influence on the holy site.

The Israeli government asked the Waqf Islamic Trust, the administrative body responsible for the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount to limit the number of worshippers but has not yet received any reply.

The government is however prepared to act on its own to limit access. "If we do not get any answer by Friday 15, we will limit access to 50/60,000 people," Israel's Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra said. On average, some 200,000 pilgrims come to the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest place, on Ramadan.

Security concerns about the Esplanade of the Mosques date back to the 1990s when Muslim religious authorities started excavating Solomon's Stables to create another place of worship.

For some archaeological experts the excavation was a rash decision. Israeli authorities claim that the roof of the new structure could collapse under the weight of the crowds gathered on the esplanade.

The Israeli government and Muslim religious authorities did never the less agree to allow a Jordanian commission to evaluate the risks of collapse. At present, structural upgrading is taking place and Jordanian experts say there is no danger.

"We really, really want to prevent harm to the public. If it will collapse thousands of people could be hurt," Deputy Police Commissioner Yaakov Edri said.

Palestinian Muslims have reacted negatively to the Israeli government's decision. AsiaNews spoke to Mustafa Abu Sway, professor of architecture at Jerusalem's Al-Quds university about the matter.

What is your opinion of Israel's decision concerning the al-Aqsa mosque?

How can one speak of limiting the number of worshippers in al-Aqsa during Ramadan when limits are already in place? This is not a new problem. Muslims from West Bank towns like Bethlehem and Ramallah or from Gaza are barred from entering. The Israelis prevent West Bank Muslims but also Christians from visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Could this provoke more violence?

I hope not, but there could be violent actions against Israeli occupation forces.

Do you think Ramadan could improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians and give the peace process a better chance e?

We all hope for peace here; it's what we really need. The problem is that Palestinians have been living under occupation for so many years and our rights have not been recognised. (LF)

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