Friday, September 24, 2004

It is appearing that Israel's government has lost interest in having anything Jewish about the "Jewish state." Politics should not decide what happens to Judaism's most holy site. - EoZ

Jordanian Wakf officials are planning on building a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount, and Israel has not objected to the proposal, a senior Jordanian official said Tuesday.

"We informed the Jerusalem police chief the day before yesterday that we are going to build a fifth minaret at the site," said Dr. Raief Najim, the vice president of the Jordanian Construction Committee, in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from Amman.

Najim, who is overseeing the renovation of the southern and eastern Temple Mount walls, said the planned minaret was the brainchild of Jordanian King Abdullah II and would be constructed near the eastern wall of the Temple Mount next year.

Four other minarets exist on the Temple Mount, three near the Western Wall and one near the northern wall.

Jerusalem police declined comment Tuesday, but Najim said Wakf officials inferred from the silence of the Jerusalem police chief, Cmdr. Ilan Franco, that Israel had no objection to the plan.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, told the Post the building of the minaret is "within Jordan's religious autonomy" as the traditional overseer of maintenance at the site.

According to decades-old regulation in place at the Temple Mount, Israel maintains overall security while the Wakf, or Islamic Trust, is charged with day-to-day administration.

Najim said construction work on the minaret – which is estimated to cost 250,000 Jordanian dinars ($352,000) – would begin in 2005, after a design similar to the four existing minarets is completed.

He added that the tentative location chosen for the planned fifth minaret, just north of the Golden Gate near the eastern wall, would not require "deep excavations."

But leading Israeli archeologists, who have been decrying the lack of archeological supervision at the site for the past four years, lambasted the plan.

"Before any change is made at the ancient Temple Mount it is essential that archeological supervision resume immediately at the site," said Dr. Eilat Mazar, a Temple Mount expert and member of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

"In the past, Wakf requests for small structural changes on the Temple Mount were actually an excuse for large-scale Islamization of the site, which caused massive antiquities damage," she added, referring to the unilateral Wakf construction work carried out in the late 1990s at an architectural support of the mount, known as Solomon's Stables. That project began after Israel approved a request for an "emergency exit" to the underground site.

During this period, Israel has been keen to involve the Jordanians in the ongoing repair work on the Temple Mount, with the Jordanians considered to be more moderate than the Palestinian heads of the Wakf appointed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

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