Footbridge to Temple Mount reopened amid safety concerns


The Mughrabi Bridge, which allows pedestrians to walk to the Temple Mount, was reopened 48 hours after it was closed due to safety concerns.

The bridge was reopened Wednesday, with a fire truck stationed nearby as a safety precaution. The Jerusalem city engineer last week threatened to order the immediate closure of the bridge, calling it a fire hazard that is in danger of collapsing. If the bridge does catch fire, it could quickly spread to the Temple Mount, the municipality has warned.

Knesset members Uri Ariel and Ariel Eldad of the National Union Party entered the Temple Mount Wednesday through the newly reopened bridge, calling for the bridge to be rebuilt in order to allow non-Muslims to visit the site. 

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner Cabinet decided to delay razing the bridge and to renovate instead.

“The government’s helplessness in dealing with this hazardous and dilapidated nuisance at the heart of the Western Wall and entrance to Temple Mount is regrettable,” the municipality said in a statement following the decision. The statement called on the government to build a “permanent and safe walkway in place of the old one.”

On Monday, Jewish activists seized several buildings near the border with Jordan to protest its interference in Temple Mount affairs. Israel and Jordan have been involved in talks to replace the temporary wooden bridge, which was erected in 2004 to replace a damaged stone walkway.

Jordan has called on Israel to refrain from destroying the bridge, saying it will change the character of the holy site. 

Long resented by Muslims, the bridge links the Western Wall to the Temple Mount and had allowed tourists to visit the latter’s Al Aksa and Dome of the Rock mosques.

The structure was to have been demolished last month to make way for a new, permanent walkway, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed the project in a move widely seen as designed to avoid stirring anti-Israel passions in Arab states rocked by political turmoil.

Israel closes Jerusalem holy compound footbridge


Israel on Monday closed a footbridge it deemed unsafe at Jerusalem’s holiest and most volatile religious site after fears that demolition of the structure, used mainly by non-Muslim tourists, could spark Arab anger.

The wooden ramp was erected by Israeli authorities as a stopgap after a snowstorm and earthquake in 2004 damaged a stone bridge leading up from Judaism’s Western Wall to the sacred compound where the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine stand.

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.

The footbridge was to have been torn down last month but Netanyahu postponed the demolition on the advice of Israeli diplomats and security officials, government officials said.

Netanyahu was cautioned that removing the structure and building a new bridge could enrage Muslims – especially in turbulent Egypt – who might believe the work could damage al-Aqsa, said the officials, who insisted no harm would come to existing buildings.

A police spokesman said the bridge was closed after Jerusalem’s city engineer declared it unsafe. It had been used mainly by tourists. Muslim worshippers use other entrances to the holy compound. Jews pray outside at the Western Wall.

Israeli media reports said Israel would consult with the king of Jordan, the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, on the future of the bridge.

The city’s senior Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, said Islamic religious authorities opposed demolition of the existing structure and construction of a new one.

The holy compound is in the old walled city of Jerusalem.  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.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller