'Mugrabi Bridge closure is religious war'

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum: Bridge's closure shows the "Zionist scheme of aggression against al-Aksa mosque."

Mughrabi Gate bridge 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mughrabi Gate bridge 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Hamas warned Monday that the Israeli closure of the Mugrabi Bridge is tantamount to a “declaration of war” on Muslim holy sites.
“This is a serious step that shows the Zionist scheme of aggression against al-Aksa mosque,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum in an interview with AFP. “This is a violent act that amounts to a declaration of religious war on the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.”
RELATED:Mugrabi Bridge closed due to safety concerns
The Palestinian Authority also condemned the closure of the Mugrabi Bridge and said that Israel does not have any jurisdiction over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said that the decision to close the bridge was designed to scuttle international efforts to revive the peace process. He was referring to renewed attempts by representatives of the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – to launch direct talks between Israel and the PA.
“The closure of the Mugrabi Bridge is is in the context of [Israel’s] religious war against our holy sites,” Hamas said in a statement.
The decision is also part of Israel's effort to completely Judaize Jerusalem by deporting residents and revoking their ID cards, demolishing their houses and confiscating their lands, Hamas charged.
Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab, chairman of the Islamic Wakf Department in Jerusalem, rejected the Israeli move and warned against an “explosion” if the bridge is demolished.
“Demolishing the bridge would be seen as an assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he cautioned. “Israel had already assaulted the rights of the Muslims by confiscating the keys to the Mugrabi Gate, which is one of the main gates to the mosque.”
Israeli officials closed the Mugrabi Bridge on Sunday for safety reasons, three days before the municipality deadline to close the ramp leading from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount. The ramp was closed due to a decision by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees the Western Wall plaza.
Barhum’s comments followed remarks made by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat last week, when he said that the Israeli move “shows their determination to judaize Jerusalem and to take over the city’s Muslim holy places.”
Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin on Monday met with Andreas Michaelis, the German ambassador to Israel, and expressed Israel’s commitment to re-opening the Mugrabi Bridge.
“Four days after the Six Day War we decided to allow Muslims to remain in control over the Temple Mount, even though this drew the ire of many Jews and was viewed as an abandonment of the holy site to Muslims,” Rivlin said. “The Mugrabi Bridge was built with unanimous consent. At this point in time the bridge is dangerous and there is a need to build a new one.”
Michaelis said that the German government supports two-sided negotiations with the Muslim Waqf to come to a solution for a new bridge, and that replacing the bridge should be undertaken with “restraint and caution.”
The Jerusalem municipality originally set November 28 as the deadline to destroy the bridge, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu intervened to stop the demolition, worried about triggering riots across the Arab world. In the most recent letter, sent last week, the municipality insisted the bridge must be closed to the public until a new bridge is built.
Most people agree that the bridge is indeed dangerous to use, and that closing it is not a political move.
Still, due to the site’s extreme sensitivity, the ramifications of the closure, which is the only entrance for non-Muslims who want to visit the Dome of the Rock, have drawn strong reactions.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) slammed the decision to close the Mugrabi Bridge without finding another solution for non-Muslims.
“It’s an absolute shame that the Temple Mount is in our hands and that Jews can’t go up there to pray,” Danon told The Jerusalem Post. Danon said he insisted in a conversation with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the Chain Gate, another entrance to the Temple Mount, must be immediately opened to non-Muslims.
“We can’t even let one day pass without letting Jews on the Temple Mount. If they don’t do the renovations immediately, we need at least to allow this for people. Every day is important,” he added.
In 2007, construction began on the bridge to replace it, a move that sparked widespread Muslim rioting in Jordan and Jerusalem and calls for a third intifada. During the period when construction was ongoing, the Chain Gate was opened to Jewish worshippers and tourists to enter the Temple Mount.
Danon said he was appealing to the Interior Committee to address the issue. He said that he believed the Chain Gate would be opened to non-Muslims in a matter of days. Any change in entrances to the Temple Mount are carried out in coordination with the Muslim Waqf.
The original earthen ramp leading to the Mugrabi Gate collapsed during a snowstorm in 2004, and the wooden temporary bridge was built in its stead, meant to serve for a few months at most until a permanent bridge was built.
The issue of a replacement bridge and coordination with Muslim authorities was set to be discussed by the High Court of Justice in June, but the case was pushed off until December 28.
Another case involving the Western Wall plaza and the bridge will be heard by the Jerusalem District Court in January.