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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel has not objected to Jordanian plans to construct a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount, and the Hashemite Kingdom is pressing ahead with plans to do so early next year, a senior Jordanian official said Wednesday.
The minaret, which will be constructed on the eastern wall of the Temple Mount near the Golden Gate, will at 42 meters be the highest of the minarets on the Mount and the first to be built in more than 600 years, Dr. Raief Najim, vice chairman of the committee running the project, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from Amman.
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He said he spoke with Israeli authorities about the plan last year and did not hear any objections to the proposed construction. He revealed that he toured the intended site with a top Jerusalem police commander, a senior government official and the head of the Antiquities Authority and none of them voiced any opposition.
"Even though the political situation has changed, I do not think they will refuse to construct such a thing," he said.
The Prime Minister's Office said Wednesday that no decision was taken to approve the construction of the minaret. The Antiquities Authority declined comment.
Earlier this week, King Abdullah II issued an international tender for the design of the minaret, which is expected to cost 400,000 to 500,000 Jordanian dinars (NIS 2.4 million to NIS 3m.).
The winner of the tender will be chosen in three months, Najim said, adding that construction work could begin early next year.
Najim, who met with Abdullah on Monday to finalize the plans, said that the minaret will be constructed in Hashemite style to differentiate it from the previous four minarets, which were built in the Mameluke style, and will include seven sides representing the star on the Jordanian flag.
According to a decades-old regulation in place at the Temple Mount, Israel maintains overall security control, while the Wakf, or Islamic trust, is charged with day-to-day administration.
A leading Israeli archeologist lambasted the plan. "I am against any change in the status quo on the Temple Mount," said Bar-Ilan University's Dr. Gabi Barkai, a member of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. "If the status quo is being changed, then it should not just be the addition of Muslim structures at the site."
In contravention of the law, Antiquities Authority archeologists have not been carrying out full-time supervision of the site for much of the last decade due to their concern about renewed Palestinian violence, despite the reopening of the compound to non-Muslims two years ago.
During this period, Israel has been keen to involve the Jordanians in the ongoing repair work on the Temple Mount, as they are considered more moderate than the Palestinian heads of the Wakf appointed by Yasser Arafat on his return to the West Bank 10 years ago.
The other minarets include three near the Western Wall and one near the northern wall. The first minaret was constructed on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount in 1278. The second was built in 1297 by order of a Mameluke king, the third by a governor of Jerusalem in 1329, and the last in 1367.
"For the past century all Hashemite intervention [here] was restoration and maintenance, and now for the first time there will be a new monument on the site," Najim said.