Israel Closes Disputed Mughrabi Bridge Despite Muslim Protests

Right-wing activists occupy border sites as message to Jordan.

Haaretz Staff
AP
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Haaretz Staff
AP

Jerusalem's Mughrabi Bridge was closed on Monday ahead of work to replace it, despite vehement Muslim objections to any construction at the site. The bridge leads to Temple Mount.

Meanwhile, the IDF and police rushed to the otherwise quiet border with Jordan after a group of 16 right-wing activists occupied structures near the border. The activists said the action was intended as a message to Jordanian authorities to keep out of Temple Mount affairs.

The Mughrabi Bridge leading to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.Credit: Michal Fattal

The IDF and police surrounded the activists, who were hilltop youth, and prepared to evacuate them last night. Four other activists were arrested before joining the group on the border.

The incident began when 17 activists seized abandoned churches near the Qasr al-Yahud holy site, which is the believed site of Jesus' baptism.

The activists, accompanied by television crews, cut their way through a fence that used to protect a minefield surrounding the area, before it was cleared by Israeli security forces. The activists danced near the structures, entered one of the churches and chanted songs.

During the night the Israeli police cleared the activists.

On Sunday the Mughrabi Bridge was closed for fear of collapse or fire, following weeks of talks between Israel and Jordan on the need to replace the old walkway.

Last week, the Jerusalem municipality's engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, wrote a letter to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, saying he intended to order the "immediate closure of the structure" and "completely prohibit its use."

A new bridge is meant to replace the wooden structure built over the Mughrabi Ramp, which partially collapsed following a storm in 2004.

On Monday, Right-wing groups slammed the delay in renovating the bridge, the only entrance for non-Muslims into Temple Mount. "They should demolish the bridge immediately and build another one instead. But the construction cannot be an excuse to stop Jews from going to Temple Mount," said MK Uri Ariel (National Union ).

Hamas said closing the bridge was part of a religious war intended to harm the al-Aqsa Mosque, and even accused Israel of planning to shut down the mosque.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan reacted in a similar way. Its leader, Hamam Said, said: This is a very dangerous move. The only solution against this entity [Israel] is resistance in order to protect the sanctity of the holy places against such flagrant aggression."

Palestinian Authority officials also condemned the bridge's closure, although it is not used by Muslims at all.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, meeting with President Shimon Peres, said he expects Israel to refrain from unilaterally demolishing the Mughrabi Bridge.

"Israel must refrain from any step that will damage the character of Jerusalem or sites that are sacred to Islam or Christianity," Abdullah said, according to Israeli officials.

Neighboring Jordan, which plays a custodial role at the compound, has declared that it will send a delegation of experts to Jerusalem to inspect the ramp.

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