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Arab League Wants End to Israeli Construction Near Al-Aqsa Mosque


The Arab League has accused Israel of trying to alter the geography and features of Jerusalem with its renovation work near the al-Aqsa Mosque. Leslie Boctor reports for VOA from Cairo, where Arab leaders held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.

Arab League Chief Amr Moussa described the renovation work as an Israeli attempt to tighten control over Jerusalem, and change the features of the holy city. He said it threatens the stability of the region.

The Arab League urged the United Nations to intervene and stop the digging near the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, the site of two biblical Temples and the holiest place in Judaism.

Israel began renovating a damaged walkway leading to the holy place last week. Israel's Cabinet says the work will continue, and would not endanger the mosque in any way.

Arab League spokesman Alaa Roushdy said Arab leaders consider the construction a violation of an UNESCO resolution, and fear it will change the demography of Jerusalem.

"With the issue of Jerusalem, it is not the first time something happens in the al-Aqsa area," said Alaa Roushdy. "The changing of demography of Jerusalem is of great issue. There were resolutions from UNESCO that state the al-Aqsa area is a cultural heritage that should not be changed, so we see this as a violation of that."

The work near the mosque has sparked protests across the region. On Friday, thousands of anti-riot police clashed with protesters near al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, and prevented worshippers from attending Friday prayers.

Arab League spokesperson Alaa Roushdy said the issue could jeopardize efforts to calm Israeli-Palestinian tensions, including a planned summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We see today that the Israelis are adamant in continuing what they are doing," said Roushdy. "We hope this would stop. At a time when everyone is trying to talk about peace, - there is a new Palestinian government, there is a meeting that will take place between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas - these kinds of actions will be undermining efforts."

An Israeli Cabinet minister says Israel has the right to maintain the holy places near the Western Wall. The holy site surrounding the mosque has been a frequent flashpoint between Israelis and Palestinians. The second Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000 following a controversial visit by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon.

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