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Committee: Israel rabbi plans new construction at Western Wall

Dec. 1, 2011 10:05 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 2, 2011 12:10 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- A joint Muslim and Christian organization warned Thursday that the rabbi of the Western Wall plans to build a second level at the holy site abutting Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The Islamic Christian Commission in Support of Jerusalem and the Holy Sites said the design was highly dangerous to the Haram al-Sharif compound as it would involve drilling directly under complex housing the mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz told Israeli TV Channel 2 that he was applying to build the new level below ground to expand the section where Jewish women are permitted to pray, the commission said.

If implemented, the plan would be the first direct drilling under the Old City's Haram al-Sharif, rather than through connected tunnels, it added.

Israel has controversially excavated a number of tunnels surrounding the compound, which Jews believe formerly house the second temple, and is the third holiest site in Islam.

Palestinians say the projects are an attempt to take further control of the holy area, and that underground construction work caused the collapse of several Palestinian buildings in the Old City.

The Commission said Thursday that Rabinovitz's plan aimed to boost the Jewish character of Jerusalem, and called on international organizations -- including the UN cultural agency -- to intervene. Palestine joined UNESCO as a full member in an October vote.

The announcement follows regional outcry when Israel's Jerusalem municipality set a deadline to demolish and rebuild the Bab (gate) al-Margharbeh walkway to the Al-Aqsa compound, which traverses the foreground of the Western Wall.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed the demolition on Saturday after pressure from Jordan, Israeli media reported.

Israel seized control of East Jerusalem -- including the Old City -- after a 1967 war, and annexed the city in a move never recognized by the international community.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are unable to visit East Jerusalem without special permits, and say that Israel's control of the city endangers their right to worship and a future Palestinian state, which is not viable without the eastern sector as its capital.
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