PM calls urgent meeting on Temple Mount construction

By Nadav Shragai
Ha'aretz Correspondent

Prime Minister Ehud Barak has ordered a meeting in his office to discuss security arrangements on the Temple Mount in the wake of protests against construction work being carried out there by the Muslim Waqf (religious trust).

The meeting will address recommendations made by the Shin Bet and by Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein to close the Temple Mount gates to any further construction materials and heavy equipment such as tractors and trucks. They also pushed to halt the development and improvements under way between Solomon's Stables and the Mercy (ZZ:Golden ) Gate until the Waqf agrees to coordinate its activities with the Antiquities Authority.

The meeting was originally called for yesterday, but was postponed, and will take place today or tomorrow. The attorney-general's office refused to comment.

The Shin Bet also warned the prime minister of dangerous right-wing activity in light of the work on the mount. The warning stated that the absence of limitations on the building and development the Waqf is performing is stirring up anger among groups dedicated to wresting the Temple Mount from Muslim hands. They fear these groups might try to break into the Temple Mount area to protest the construction on what many rabbis believe is the site of the ancient Temple's courtyard.

The Shin Bet also warned of long-term Islamic movement plans to seize some of the Eastern parts of the mount as additional prayer areas.

The pace of work has increased over the past two days along the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, and trucks bringing building materials in and dug-up earth out have been circulating, up and down the Kidron Valley. The Antiquities Authority has not been allowed to supervise, despite Haim Ramon's announcement last week of partial archaeological supervision of the Temple Mount work.

Poet Haim Gouri, a member of the committee for the protection of Temple Mount antiquities, called on UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, to get involved in the goings-on on the mount.

"The treasures buried in this land," Gouri said, "especially on the Temple Mount, are both our history and theirs. We cannot be irresponsible with this land. The minimum required here is to treat the place with respect. This is not a political issue. Left and right have joined forces, people from all colors of the rainbow. I cannot recall, since this state was founded, so widespread an opinion as that sparked by the committee for protection of antiquities on the mount."

"The Temple Mount is unique in the world," Gouri pleaded. "It stands at the center of incredible tensions, but is also the center of unbelievable treasures and national and religious traditions. It must be treated with respect and civility, and not disrespect and barbarism. The situation at this moment is intolerable."

The Mufti of Jerusalem and head of the Supreme Islamic Council, Sheikh Arama Tsabari, emphasized in his last Friday sermon in the Al Aqsa mosque that the Waqf has never asked permission from anyone to renovate the Temple Mount, and does not intend to start now.