Jordanian officials are calling on Israel to halt plans to build a new “prayer plaza” at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, located in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Jordan’s official Petra News Agency on Saturday quoted Communications Minister Mohammad Momani as saying that the proposed plaza would violate the site’s Islamic heritage.
Sacred to Jews, the Western Wall is situated in East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which for Muslims represents the world’s third holiest site.
Both Jordanian and Al-Aqsa Mosque officials say construction of the proposed prayer plaza would damage the Umayyad Palaces, a seventh-century Islamic archaeological site.
The Petra News Agency reported Thursday that Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, the Jerusalem-based director of the Awqaf (the Jordanian foundation responsible for the upkeep of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites), had written a letter to the Israeli authorities calling for management of the Umayyad Palaces to be handed over to the Awqaf.
Israel has already erected temporary platforms at the site of the proposed prayer plaza, which will be set up next to the retaining wall of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – known to Jews as the “Temple Mount” and considered sacred by both faiths.
The planned plaza is intended to provide a space at the Western Wall in which Jewish women can read the Torah (the Jewish holy book), as Orthodox Jews are opposed to the presence of women in the main areas reserved for prayer.
Since Israel’s 1967 occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jordan – via the Awqaf – has been responsible for safeguarding and managing Jerusalem’s Islamic heritage sites, especially the iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Since then, a “status quo” has been maintained at the site in which non-Muslims are prohibited from performing prayer activities.
Amid mounting tension over access to the site and accusations that Israel was altering this status quo by allowing groups of Jews – in increasing numbers – to visit Al-Aqsa, Jordan and Israel agreed last October to a US-backed deal to install surveillance cameras to monitor activity inside the mosque compound.
Until now, however, the two sides have failed to agree on how to install the cameras and on who should be able to control the video feeds.
On Sunday, Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Israeli officials as saying that a solution may not be found before the Jewish Passover holiday in April, when large numbers of Jews usually visit the flashpoint site.