CAIRO - The Israeli government ordered on Thursday, December 8, the closure of a heritage wooden Mughrabi ramp leading to Al-Aqsa mosque in Al-Quds (Occupied Jerusalem) within a week, in a move liable to touch off a new round of protests from angry Muslims.
"This is a very sensitive issue," Yusuf Natsheh, director of the Waqf administration, told Yediot Ahronot.
"It is so close to the mosque, and Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims ... all over the world will be unhappy," he added, criticizing a "disastrous" Israeli policy.
The order was outlined in a letter from city engineer Shlomo Eshkol given on Wednesday evening to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation which is responsible for the upkeep of the Mughrabi ramp.
"It is my intention to issue an order for the immediate closure of the structure and not to allow any use of it," he wrote in the order cited by Agence France Presse (AFP).
Eshkol gave them "seven days from the date of this notice to outline any reservations" before the order takes effect.
The wooden structure has been at the centre of a complex row between the city council and the Jewish and Muslim groups which oversee Al-Aqsa mosque.
There are 15 gates leading into the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, 10 of which are in use.
The Mughrabi Gate is the only access for non-Muslims to enter the site, meaning its closure will prevent tourists from visiting until a replacement structure is built.
In a statement, the city council claimed that the decision was issued due to safety fears for hundreds of visitors and security personnel who use the bridge daily.
"The unstable condition of the ramp and its danger of flammability could exact a high price upon human life. The ramp could collapse upon the Western Wall plaza, injuring the women who pray next to it and possibly causing serious damage to the Western Wall or Temple Mount."
The city council had on October 23 given the Western Wall Foundation 30 days to dismantle the ramp and rebuild a permanent replacement in a move which sparked anger in Jordan, which is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
Later on November 27, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed the demolition over fears it could spark a wave of anti-Israel protests across the Arab and Islamic world.
Condemning the Israeli blatant move, another solution was offered by Al-Quds Waqf head Azzam al-Khatib who suggested undertaking the maintenance work if Israel would agree.
"We can, and are willing to restore (the ramp) to the condition it was before or better, within days, if Israel allows it," al-Khatib told AFP.
Early signs of Muslim anger appeared in comments made by Jordan's opposition Islamic Action Front party who condemned the decision and called for resistance' against Israel.
Israel is disregarding all Arab and international warnings. The only way to deal with Zionist occupation is through serious resistance backed by Arab and Muslim nations, Hamzeh Mansur, head of the opposition Islamic Action Front party, told AFP.
This proves that Israel is going ahead with its policy of judaising the Holy Land, which requires immediate Arab and Muslim action, he added
Al-Quds is home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam's third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israel occupied the holy city in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community or UN resolutions.
Since then, Israel has adopted a series of oppressive measures to force the Palestinians out of the city, including systematic demolition of their homes and building settlements.
Erasing the remaining history of Arabs and Palestinians in Al-Quds, a new bill was approved by the Israeli Knesset last May that ordered Hebraizing all Arabic names of the city's neighborhoods.