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Jerusalem Mayor Orders New Hearings on Plans for Disputed Construction Near Holy Compound


Jerusalem's mayor has ordered local authorities to submit new plans for rebuilding a walkway near a disputed holy compound.

The office of mayor Uri Lupolianski says he issued the order late Sunday after meeting with local Muslim leaders.

The city had already approved a renovation plan for the ramp leading to the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. But, officials say Lupolianski now wants to hold a new planning process that will allow city residents to submit protests.

Officials say the mayor's decision will not affect the archaeological excavation that began at the site last week. The dig is aimed at ensuring that no important artifacts are damaged when the walkway is eventually rebuilt.

But, the mayor's office says the start of the actual rebuilding work is likely to be delayed while authorities address public concerns about the project.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday the construction work must continue because the walkway - damaged in a snowstorm three years ago - is dangerous. His Cabinet voted overwhelmingly to support the project, although three ministers abstained.

The ramp leads to the compound Muslims call Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam. Jews refer to the complex as the Temple Mount because it housed two ancient Jewish temples.

Muslim leaders around the world have called on Israel to stop the construction work, arguing that it threatens the foundations of the nearby mosque.

Israeli police are continuing to restrict access to the compound, not allowing Muslim men under the age of 45 to enter. Palestinians opposed to the project fought and scuffled with Israeli police in Jerusalem for a third day Sunday, but no serious injuries were reported.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.

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