With a Supreme Court lawsuit pushing for the structure to be repaired, the government could soon be forced into taking action on a problem that it has long evaded due to its broad diplomatic sensitivities with Jordan, the Palestinians and the broader Muslim world. The bridge is the sole access point for non-Muslims to reach the contested hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
The tenuous state of the Mughrabi Bridge has raised fears of another disaster months after a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel left 45 people dead. Days after the stampede last May, a municipal engineer hired by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation inspected the Mughrabi Bridge. Citing its poor condition, he urged its immediate replacement and authorized its use only until September. Foot traffic has grown considerably since its construction in 2004 after an earthen ramp leading to one of the compound’s gates collapsed following an earthquake and heavy snowfall.
Engineers have warned for more than a decade that it is increasingly unsafe. But religious sensitivities and diplomatic deadlock have translated into years of inaction. The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, the site where two ancient Temples stood. Today, the compound is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and iconic gold-topped Dome of the Rock, and is the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
The competing claims to the site have sparked repeated bouts of violence over the years and helped fuel an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in May. Days before the Gaza war erupted, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the government-backed organization that manages the Jewish prayer plaza at the base of the mount, had an engineer inspect the bridge. In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, engineer Ofer Cohen said the hastily constructed bridge’s wooden beams were “in a state of extreme dryness” and severely cracked. He approved use of the bridge until no later than September and urged authorities “to act immediately to replace the bridge in order to make safe its use.”
His inspection came less than a week after the deadly stampede earlier this year at Mount Meron, where 100,000 worshippers had gathered for an annual pilgrimage despite coronavirus restrictions and longstanding warnings the complex could not handle large crowds. A government commission is now investigating the April 30 incident, the deadliest civilian accident in Israeli history. The Mughrabi Bridge hangs over the women’s prayer section of the Western Wall plaza, the holiest place where Jews can pray.
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