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Monday, February 12, 2007

Majadele: Jerusalem mayor knew Mugrabi dig was illegal

Better late than never...
Last update - 13:12 12/02/2007   

Majadele: Jerusalem mayor knew Mugrabi dig was illegal
By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

Israel's first Arab minister, Ghaleb Majadele, on Monday accused Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski of approving controversial construction work in the Old City of the capital, even though he knew it was illegal.
The excavation and building work at the Mugrabi Ascent, some 60 meters away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, has sparked demonstrations and criticism across the Muslim world.
Majadele, speaking at a stormy meeting of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, accused the mayor of agreeing to the work without first obtaining the correct authorization required by law.
The minister said that several days he had told the head of the Antiquities Authority that the dig was illegal, and had tried in vain to set up a meeting with Lupolianski.
The mayor announced late Sunday night that he had decided to postpone construction of the walkway at the Mugrabi Ascent until zoning authorities complete plans for the area.
"The Mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, together with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi for the Kotel and Holy Places, decided last night to allow public discussion of the plans to construct the Mugrabi Bridge at the planning and construction committees," city spokesman Gideon Schmerling said in a statement.
"This 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."
Scmerling added that the archeological work conducted by the Antiquities Authority at the site would continue.
Over the past several days, Lupolianski held meetings and discussions with various representatives from eastern Jerusalem, together with Rabbi Rabinowitz, and Lupolianski assured them that he will allow open discussion with full disclosure in order to make it clear that there is no intention to enter the Temple Mount or cause any damage to it.
Lupolianski and Western Wall rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich drafted the decision Sunday following conversations with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, municipal planning authorities, Muslim community leaders and other representatives of the Arab population of East Jerusalem, in order to allow the general public to review plans for the bridge and submit opposition.
Lupolianski announced that the measure reflects a desire for transparency and to foster a sense of cooperation with residents in the construction process. He also wanted to avoid the feeling among the public that the work constitutes some sort of an Israeli ambush.
In practice, the decision means that approval of the plan will be postponed until a hearing of all the letters of opposition filed by city residents. The salvage excavation being conducted by the Antiquities Authority is expected to continue at this stage, parallel to the public discussion of the zoning plan.
Jerusalem municipal sources said Sunday that the decision could in fact be postponed for months, and that there is no certainty the zoning authorities that hear the arguments of those opposed will actually approve the plan in the end.
Settlers to gov't: Don't give in to threats
The Yesha Council of Settlements voiced support of continued work at the site, urging the government not to "surrender to threats" and to open the Temple Mount to Jewish worship, Israel Radio reported Monday.
It quoted the Yesha's Rabbinical Committee as saying that, "The violent events on the Temple Mount are the rotten fruit of the weakness that Israeli governments have demonstrated since the liberation of the Temple Mount in the [1967] Six-Day War.
"This is a direct result of the negation of the rights of the Jews at the site.
The council announced that it "backs the government, which is not surrendering to threats and fabrications," the radio said.
Many rabbis have ruled the Temple Mount site off-limits to Jews, citing prohibitions on entering the area where the Temple courtyard once lay, and the difficulty of fulfilling the ancient ritual requirement of cleansing with the ashes of a red heifer.
'Plan engendered wave of rumor
Lupolianski told associates Sunday that "the plan to construct the walkway engendered a wave of rumor and speculation about Israeli intentions regarding the [Al-Aqsa] mosque."
"We therefore decided to be totally transparent with all residents about the walkway construction plan, so they will know clearly where it is to be built and to allow members of the public to express their positions to the zoning board," Lupoliansky continued. "The move is slated to help people understand that the walkway is in no way injurious and does not enter the Temple Mount. It is important to us that there is no feeling that this was done covertly or sneakily."
The decision to draft a zoning plan for the walkway is controversial: City Hall has sufficed until now with issuing permits - a rapid process - rather than demanding a broad plan, since the walkway is intended to replace an existing bridge and does not involve construction of a new structure.
The city's legal counsel has said in recent months that a building permit is sufficient, but after the mayor's discussions with Mazuz and representatives of East Jerusalem, it was decided to create a zoning procedure and allow all residents to file reservations about the project.

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