Friday, December 15, 2006

Just in Time for Chanukah

Jerusalem Engineer: Temple Mount Ramp May Collapse

( A Jerusalem city engineer warned this week that the ramp leading to the main tourist entrance of the Temple Mount is in danger of total collapse.

Part of the ramp, which leads to the Mograbi Gate, collapsed in the winter of 2004. A wooden bridge which was built over the ramp after the mishap is now also in danger of falling apart.

Within a few months, said engineers from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the bridge will become totally unsafe.

Plans for a permanent bridge have been stuck in endless red tape for more than two years.

Main entrance to Temple Mount said in danger of collapse
Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

The ramp leading up to the Mugrabi Gate - the main entrance to Temple Mount serving tourists, security forces and visitors - is in danger of collapse, a Jerusalem municipal engineer has warned.

The ramp has not been in use for more than two years, after part of it collapsed into the Western Wall's women's prayer compound in the winter of 2004.

A makeshift wooden bridge was built above the ramp. However, after being used by thousands of people daily for almost three years, the bridge is beginning to wobble.

Engineers of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation say that the bridge is in danger of falling down and in a few months will no longer be safe. The bridge was hurriedly erected after the Jerusalem Police District Commander at the time, Miki Levy, declared it a security need. Levy said at the time that it was imperative for the police to have access into Temple Mount on Friday.

Meanwhile, the plan for the permanent bridge has been stalled for more than two years, bogged down by red tape among the municipality, police, Public Security Ministry and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch regrets his hasty agreement to build the temporary bridge, which gnaws into the women's prayer compound, reducing it by more than one-third.

On Saturdays and especially on holidays the congestion there is insufferable. On the High Holidays, emergency services had to evacuate several women who fainted due to the crowding and ushers had to keep many women outside the compound.

Rabinovitch says the authorities might as well close down Mugrabi Gate and bring tourists and security forces to Temple Mount through another gate. He would like the ramp remains, deemed by archaeologists as mere heaps of fill, to be removed, to enlarge the women's compound.

"Today there are as many women worshipers as men, perhaps more, and the women need that area," says Rabinovitch.

The Defense Ministry has delayed its approval for the project repeatedly - once due to the imminent pullout from Gaza, once due to Ramadan, then due to intelligence tips about intentions to raise foment.

The Islamic Movement's Northern Branch issued several warnings against carrying out archaeological work in the collapsed hill of the Mugrabi ramp. The movement said it saw the planned excavations as an attempt to damage the al Aqsa Mosque, and its leaders called on Arab states and Muslims in the world to object to it.

Yehoshua Pollak, head of Jerusalem's Planning and Construction Committee, says the Public Security Ministry has agreed to the municipality's condition to call the bridge a "security requirement" and the process is almost finished.

"Everyone should hurry up before a disaster happens there. Nothing is stable there, not even the temporary wooden bridge," he says.

The IAA says that the part of the ramp that collapsed will probably be removed and the exposed Western Wall part will be added to the women's compound. However, they do not intend to dig below the existing compound, although the upper part of Barclay's Gate is already visible beneath the surface.

Barclay's Gate is one of the original Temple Mount portals, dating from the period of the Second Temple. In the 1970s the Religious Affairs Ministry and archaeologists wished to expose it, but rabbis and the Waqf objected. The gate, named after the 19th-century American consul who first identified it, will therefore remain covered.

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