The mayor of Jerusalem has postponed construction work on a walkway leading to Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock Mosque. VOA's Jim Teeple reports work at the site during the past week has sparked controversy and riots among Jerusalem's Muslim population.
In a surprise decision, Jerusalem's Jewish ultra-Orthodox mayor, Uri Lupolianski has ordered a review of construction work that will replace a wooden walkway that leads from Jerusalem's Western or Wailing Wall to the Dome of the Rock complex, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.
The complex which is known to Jews as the Temple Mount has been the site of disturbances during the past week by Muslims who say the construction work could destabilize the foundations of the al-Aqsa Mosque, which along with the Dome of the Rock Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam.
Mayor Lupolianski's office says the decision to review the construction work was made after consultations with Muslim leaders in East Jerusalem, the Muslim half of the city that was captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Raffi Shamir a deputy spokesman in the mayor's office, read a statement, saying construction work on the ramp has been postponed, but the excavation work at the site being carried out by Israeli archeologists will continue.
"It should be noted that despite this decision, the rescue works [archeological excavation] conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, scheduled to go on for several months, will still take place," he said. "But at the same time the public discussion with the planning committees will begin."
Muslim leaders have criticized the decision to allow excavation work to continue at the site, saying it will destroy an old walkway to the Dome of the Rock - and could disturb the al-Aqsa foundations. Ibrahim Sarsur, a leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel that has been leading the protests against the project, told Israel Radio that protests will continue - although he says they will be legal.
Sarsur says the old walkway should be restored and not destroyed, and all future work at the site should be coordinated with all of Jerusalem's religious communities.
The decision to postpone construction at the site was also criticized by right-wing members of Israel's Knesset or parliament - who said the decision amounted to a surrender of Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.