Jerusalem Closes Mughrabi Bridge Leading to Temple Mount

Due to safety concerns, Western Wall Heritage Foundation shuts down historic bridge, which has become a sensitive issue for both Egypt and Jordan.

Jerusalem's Mughrabi Bridge, which leads from the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount, was closed Sunday due to fears it may collapse.

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

Mughrabi Bridge, Jerusalem Old City
Emil Salman

Jerusalem municipality officials stressed that the wooden bridge poses a severe security threat since it is highly flammable and in danger of collapsing. They warned that if a fire breaks out it could spread to the Temple Mount.

The municipality said that only a small number of security officials will be able to use the bridge, and only under urgent circumstances.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Jerusalem municipality two weeks ago to postpone the demolition of the Mughrabi Bridge, which was already due to begin.

Netanyahu's bureau had 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.

Any construction at the site can be politically explosive. During Benjamin Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, his opening in 1996 of a new entrance to an access tunnel for tourists near the compound touched off Muslim protests and gun battles in which 60 Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed.

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.

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 last week on Jordanian King Abdullah to dissuade Israel from replacing the ramp.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, meeting with President Shimon Peres, subsequently said that 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.

The holy compound is in the old walled city of Jerusalem, an area Israel captured along with the West Bank in a 1967 war and annexed in a step that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want the area to be part of a state they intend to create in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Jews revere the compound as the site of their Biblical Temple, destroyed by Roman troops in the 1st century. Surviving foundations of its Western Wall are now a focus of prayer.

For Muslims, who captured Jerusalem from the Christian Byzantines in the 7th century, the Dome of the Rock marks the spot from which Mohammad made his night journey to heaven.