An Israeli Ministry of Tourism proposal to enable Jews to enter the Temple Mount through a second gate, in an effort to reduce the waiting time for visitors, generated harsh opposition from the Palestinians.
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The Temple Mount, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, is both the holiest site for religious Jews and the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
Up to now, Jews have been allowed to enter the Temple Mount only through the Mughrabi Gate. The ministry is now considering giving Jews additional access to the site, through the Cotton Merchants Gate, Army Radio reported.
The plan is a "loud insult" to Muslims worldwide, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, said Tuesday in a statement carried by the Palestinian news agency Ma'an.
Ashrawi, who is Christian, said that "Israel is creating a new reality at the expense of Palestinians, their religious rights, sites, and historical identity."
"They are violating the sanctity of religious sites without consequences, which completely terminates possibilities for peace and will ultimately drag the whole region into disastrous clashes."
Proponents of the plan were equally vocal. "There are 11 entrances to the Temple Mount, and 10 of them are open to Muslims," Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a Temple Mount activist, told Army Radio. "But only one is open to the tens of thousands of Jews and tourists who want to enter" the site.
"Every day the numbers waiting in line increase," Glick said. Far more people want to enter the site than one gate can manage, he said.
Similar proposals have raised policy issues, Army Radio reported. When, for example, Israel's government tried to build a new bridge to the Mughrabi Gate, which would have changed only the approach to the gate from the Western Wall, Jordan's government objected and demanded that the prime minister stop the project. The new bridge was dismantled.
So opening another access point to the Temple Mount would be a much sharper change in the status quo and could prompt protests, Army Radio reported.
Army Radio said the ministry document it received was written in January. Since then no progress on the proposal has been made, probably because of opposition from Israel's defense authorities, it reported. The plan probably will require heavy security and could prompt violence on the Temple Mount, Army Radio reported.