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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Israel warning on Jerusalem site
The Dome of the Rock Mosque compound
The Dome of the Rock Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City
An Israeli minister has warned that part of a holy site in Jerusalem sacred to both Muslims and Jews may collapse beneath the weight of worshippers.

Thousands of Muslims are expected to make the pilgrimage to the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, during Ramadan.

But Israel's interior security minister says the the site must be strengthened or numbers of pilgrims must be limited.

Muslim authorities say it is an attempt to seize control of the mosque.

Limited access

Thousands are expected to attend Friday prayers at the mosque, situated in Jerusalem's Old City, during the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, which begins in October.

The site containing the mosque is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.

The Dome of the Rock Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City
Thousands of worshippers will visit the site during Ramadan
Israel says the foundation of part of the structure is unsound and may collapse.

"Israel cannot take such a risk," Gideon Ezra told Israel Public radio.

"It is necessary to build pillars to support the southern wall of this structure and if this doesn't happen the police will limit access to the mosque during Ramadan."

A September 2000 visit to the compound by Ariel Sharon - then Israeli opposition leader - helped spark the latest Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

Repair work on the ancient site has already led to disagreements between Israeli officials with responsibility for looking after it, and their Palestinian counterparts, the Waqf authority.

Crumbling

The foundations of the mosque are old and unstable and a combination of roofing work on the building and a small earthquake have worsened its structural condition.

Part of the 800-year-old supporting wall leading to the compound crumbled in February.

At the time Israeli experts warned that a major collapse at the site would only be a matter of time unless urgent repair work was carried out.

Muslims have blamed Israel for the collapse, saying officials were trying to destabilise the complex by carrying out archaeological excavations in an area outside the compound.




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