Jerusalem Municipality
Steel walkway at Temple Mount prompted protest.

The Jerusalem Municipality has decided to temporarily delay construction of a controversial walkway located just outside the Temple Mount in the Old City.

Mayor Uri Lupolianski said the postponement would allow municipal planning authorities time to complete plans for the proposed elevated bridge that has led to Muslim protests over fears that the work will harm the nearby mosque and shrine.  The decision will allow for a public hearing on the proposal. In the meantime, salvage excavation work will continue by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the site to prepare for the eventual construction.

"The plan to construct the walkway led to a wave of rumor and speculation about Israeli intentions regarding the Al Aqsa mosque," said Mayor Lupolianski. The move "³is designed to help people understand that the walkway is in no way injurious and does not enter the Temple Mount."

Mayor Lupolianski' Feb.11th announcement came only hours before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided that work would continue despite week-long demonstrations by Muslim protesters. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had called on the Islamic world to intervene to halt the work. 

Israel said it needs to replace a centuries-old earthen ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate that allows walkers to reach the hilltop compound. A wooden ramp was built for temporary use on the section of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.  "A permanent structure is needed as we fear the wooden ramp will collapse," said Tzachi Katz, director of the Jerusalem Municipality's building and licensing department. He added that the work underway is outside the confines of the Temple Mount and posed no danger to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, Islam's third holiest shrine.

The wave of protests began in early February when the Israel Antiquities Authority began excavations with a sole bulldozer at the site to prepare for construction of a 100-meter-long steel bridge that will replace the temporary wooden ramp. Designed by Tel Aviv-based Carmi Architects, the walkway will be supported by several pillars in an area known as the Archeological Garden adjacent to the Western Wall.   

"This is a historical place, and the Israeli machines are destroying it," said Adnan Husseini, chairman of the Waqf, the Muslim trust that oversees the complex. He demanded that the Israelis halt all work and let the Waqf do the renovations.

The original timetable called for the excavation work to continue through the summer.  The Israel Antiquities Authority is supervising the excavation work to see that the Archeological Garden beneath the Temple Mount is not damaged. The authority even proposed broadcasting real time 24 hour video from the site to allay fears the shrine will be harmed.

 "Actual construction of the bridge is expected to take eight months once the go-ahead is given," said the Jerusalem Municipality¹s Katz. But at this stage it is unclear when actual construction work will begin as that will depend on the political situation.