J'lem Approves Controversial Mughrabi Project

Jerusalem's district planning and construction committee has approved a controversial plan to restore the Mughrabi bridge leading to one of the entrances to the Temple Mount, construction that caused an outcry among Muslims and generated protest from the Jordanian and Turkish governments in June.

The plan, approved two weeks ago, also includes expansion of the women's section of the Western Wall plaza.

A ministerial committee established after the summer's protests and headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided two months ago to approve the construction, pending approval by the district planning and construction committee. The cabinet approved the ministerial committee decision after Science and Culture Minister Raleb Majadele withdrew his objection in response to Olmert's request.

Representatives from the Jerusalem municipality, Israel Antiquities Authority, Waqf (Muslim religious trust) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization met Sunday to discuss the Mughrabi bridge.

The Jordanian information minister announced progress in talks on restoring the bridge, but a Jordanian official told Haaretz yesterday that Jordanian authorities are not aware of any change to the status quo, including expansion of the Western Wall plaza.

Ir Amim, a non-profit group advocating what it calls an equitable and stable Jerusalem, recently asked the attorney general to delay approval of the plan. Ir Amim legal consultant Danny Zeidman said the plan includes dangerous and unnecessary elements, including expansion of the Western Wall plaza at the expense of the remnants of the historic Mughrabi Quarter. He also rejected a plan to use the space under the bridge for prayer and said the entire plan reflects the politicization of archaeology.

Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, dismissed the criticism, saying the construction does nothing to harm Muslim interests. He called the plan a miracle that gives Israel a chance to fix the mistake of designating too small an area for the women's section.