JERUSALEM (AFP) – A senior Muslim cleric has urged Palestinians to rush to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem to protest against nearby Israeli public works that he said threatens the site’s foundations.
Tayssir al-Tamami, head of religious courts in the Palestinian territories, issued the call on pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera, claiming that Israeli bulldozers were en route to the third holiest site in Islam.
The bulldozers, he charged, intended to demolish a mound next to Dung Gate, one of the entrances into Jerusalem’s Old City leading to the mosque compound.
According to the Waqf religious trust, two underground rooms connected to the mosques lie under the mound, and that levelling the mound would threaten the foundation of the Al-Aqsa compound.
“The occupation bulldozers are headed (to the mosques) to destroy the historic route from Dung Gate,” Tamimi said on Al-Jazeera on Tuesday.
He urged Palestinians to go immediately to the mosque compound to “protect” the site from the Israeli public works.
Several hundred police were deployed throughout the Old City and restrictions imposed on access to the mosque compound to prevent disturbances, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
“This morning, renovation began by the archaeological foundation. It’s not on the gate itself, but on the side of the Western Wall on the path leading up to the gate,” he told AFP.
“Police are patrolling around the Old City to prevent any public disorder or outbreaks of disturbances before or during the Muslim prayers scheduled today.”
Only men aged over 45 with Israeli identity cards and women are being allowed into the mosque compound, with all site closed to visitors.
Witnesses said a single bulldozer had arrived at Dung Gate. Rosenfeld said that two tractors were carrying out the renovation work.
Israeli authorities say the public works intend to strengthen an access ramp to Dung Gate which was damaged during a snow storm two years ago.
The compound, which houses Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is where the second Palestinian uprising erupted in September 2000 following a controversial visit by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon.
The site is also revered by Jews as once the site of Solomon’s temple, the holiest shrine in Judaism that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
On Sunday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned against “any attack on Islamic sites” in Jerusalem and condemned Israeli attempts “seeking to change the nature of these sites and erase their Muslim character”.
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