JERUSALEM: Israel s defense minister has written to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asking for an immediate halt to public works near Jerusalem s ultra-sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque that have sparked Muslim rage.
Amir Peretz said work on a new access bridge should stop, citing fears that the security situation will deteriorate, an official said on condition of anonymity.
The entire matter is currently being looked into, particularly in the prime minister s office, the official added.
Israel was continuing initial excavations for a third day on Thursday ahead of beginning the new construction near the third holiest site in world Islam – despite fury from Arab and Muslim leaders and Palestinian protests.
The Haaretz newspaper said Peretz s letter was attached to an opinion piece written by Reserve General Amos Gilad, a senior defense ministry official, saying that the construction would foment fury in the Arab world.
Sheikh Tayssir al-Tamimi, a senior Palestinian Muslim leader, called for a one-day protest worldwide to denounce the works.
The compound, which houses both the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is where the second Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000 after a controversial visit by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon.
It is revered by Jews as the site of their ancient temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
In 1996, more than 80 people were killed in three days of rioting in the Palestinian territories after then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened a new entrance to a controversial archaeological tunnel near the holy sites.