Jerusalem mayor to consult on holy site plans

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel is to press ahead with excavation work near Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine, but will open up to public discussion plans to build a pedestrian bridge there, officials said on Monday.

Israeli police clashed with Palestinians angry about the excavation work outside Al-Aqsa on Friday.

An official at Mayor Uri Lupolianski’s office said the decision to seek wider consultation might postpone the start of actual construction work on the bridge.

“(The decision) is due to the sensitivity of the plan and following meetings and discussions with representatives from eastern Jerusalem who requested to look over the plans and voice their opinions,” Jerusalem Municipality spokesman Gideon Schmerling said.

“Despite this decision, the rescue works, conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, scheduled to go on for several months, will still take place,” he said.

Israel says it is mandated by law to salvage artefacts before the construction of a pedestrian bridge meant to replace an existing ramp leading up to the complex housing Al-Aqsa.

The ramp was deemed unsafe after it was damaged by a snowstorm and earthquake in 2004.

Muslim leaders had called for protests over the excavations — about 50 meters (yards) from the compound housing Al-Aqsa — and Arab states had asked Israel to halt the work, charging it could undermine the foundations of the mosque.

Israel says the holy places would not be harmed.

The compound, where two biblical temples once stood and Muslims believe Mohammad ascended to heaven, is in Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a step that has not won international recognition.

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