December 13th, 2011
07:19 AM ET
By Michal Zippori and Kevin Flower, CNN
Jerusalem (CNN)–A pedestrian walkway that leads to a religious site sacred both to Jews and Muslims has been closed under an order from the Jerusalem municipality, according to city officials.
The wooden ramp that leads to the Mughrabi gate serves as the sole entrance for Jews and foreign tourists to enter the plaza known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims.
Last week the Jerusalem city engineer Shlomo Eshkol issued a closure order for the ramp, declaring that it is not structurally sound and poses a threat to public security. In a letter addressed to the foundation that oversees the adjacent Western Wall, Eshkol wrote, "There exists immediate danger to the users, to the public and to the property nearby, due to the flammability and potential collapsing."
The walkway was closed Sunday.
The ramp was built as a temporary structure in 2004. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed a plan to demolish it two weeks ago. An Israeli government official said he was worried that the time was not right for such a move.
The status of the ramp has been a highly contested issue between Jewish and Muslim groups that oversee areas in and around the religious site. Plans to alter or demolish the walkway have been criticized by Palestinians and the Jordanian government, which serves as the custodian for Islamic sites in Jerusalem.
Many Muslims and Palestinians believe that any changes to the ramp could alter what they see as the Islamic nature of the gate and fear that any new ramp would be used by Israel to facilitate the the entry of security personnel to the al-Aqsa mosque, which is considered the third holiest site in Islam.
Word of the ramp's closure brought swift condemnation from the Islamist Hamas government in Gaza. "This is a violent act that amounts to a declaration of religious war on the Muslim places in Jerusalem" Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
Neither the Palestinian Authority not the Jordanian government have officially commented on the closure.
Some right-wing Israeli politicians also expressed anger at the closing of the walkway. In a letter the Knesset president, Likud legislator Danny Danon complained that closing "the Temple Mount to Jews is a red line which should not be crossed."
"There is no reason why the state of Israel whose capital is Jerusalem should close the Temple Mount which is the stronghold of Judaism in Israel and the whole world" Danon wrote.
Jews consider the Temple Mount to be the holiest site in Jerusalem. It is the site where the second temple of King Herod stood before it was destroyed by the Romans.
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