Netanyahu Delays Demolition of Jerusalem Bridge Over Egypt, Jordan Warning

The dispute over the Old City's Mughrabi Bridge is a key issue in Egypt's elections.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Jerusalem municipality and the Public Security Ministry on Friday to postpone for one week the demolition of the Mughrabi Bridge, which leads from the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount, due to warnings from Egypt and Jordan of possible repercussions.

According to a senior Israeli official, the demolition of the bridge was planned for a 72-hour period beginning Saturday night. However, Netanyahu's bureau asked the municipality to postpone the work due to the sensitivity of the issue and warnings from Egypt that the action would focus protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Israel.

The Mughrabi Bridge next to the Western Wall, Nov. 27, 2011.Credit: Emil Salman

Netanyahu is expected to convene a meeting of officials for a broad discussion to resolve the matter.

A new bridge is meant to replace the wooden structure built over the Mughrabi Ramp, which partially collapsed following a storm in 2004. The dismantling of the ramp in 2007 led to protests in the Muslim world and international criticism.

Opponents of the reconstruction project said it was intended to provide more room in the women's section of the plaza. A UNESCO-Turkish delegation demanded that Israel cease work without agreement and coordination with the Waqf, the trust that manages the Islamic edifices in the Old City.

The dispute over the bridge has now become a key issue in Egypt's elections. The Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, called Thursday on Jordanian King Abdullah to dissuade Israel from replacing the ramp.

Qaradawi claims that Israel wants to replace the bridge to ease access by settlers and its security forces to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Posters were put up at Cairo's Al-Azhar University calling on Muslims to protect the mosque.

The Jordanian minister of Muslim religious trusts also warned Israel of the implications of demolishing the bridge. Officials in Israel told Haaretz that the crisis in relations with Jordan had led Amman to renege on an agreement with Israel over the bridge.

The officials said Jordan had changed its position because it was worried that the Palestinian Authority would use its new membership in UNESCO to increase its influence in the holy places in Jerusalem. The Jordanians say that Israel had agreed in the peace treaty with Jordan that the Jordanian Muslim religious trust would continue to administer the site.

On October 24, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wrote to cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser about the bridge after the city engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, demanded from the chairman of the Western Wall Foundation, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, to dismantle the wooden bridge over the ramp within 30 days. He said Rabinowitz would face a fine of NIS 3,200 and NIS 150 for every additional day the bridge stands.

The previous day, the chief city engineer for dangerous structures and the firefighting service determined that the bridge was dangerous and a fire hazard, and must be immediately dismantled.

Three months ago, Hauser asked the opinion of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on the matter. Deputy Attorney General Sarit Dana responded that there existed a "contradictory opinion with regard to the soundness of the Mughrabi bridge," referring to an evaluation by the Public Security Ministry that the bridge presents no danger.

Dana wrote that a decision on the issue "is not within our authority or responsibility." She said that the attorney general would revisit the matter if the city used its authority to declare the bridge unsafe and the police or other agency stated that this action was illegal.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: נתניהו הורה לדחות את הריסת גשר המוגרבים בעקבות לחץ מצרי וירדני

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