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Palestinians Furious Over Synagogue Reopening

Monday, 15 March 2010 07:43 PM

JERUSALEM - Israel on Monday reopened a landmark synagogue in Jerusalem's walled Old City, saying it should symbolise religious tolerance, 62 years after the building was destroyed in fighting with Jordan.

In a video message because he was unable to attend personally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the synagogue brought a message of coexistence.

"We permit believers of other faiths to conserve their places of worship. We proudly protect our heritage, while at the same time allowing others freedom of religion," he said.

But the rededication came against a backdrop of heightened political and religious tensions in the holy city, with thousands of police deployed after clashes with Palestinian demonstrators.

Palestinian rivals the secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas were united in their condemnation of the move.

Exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal slammed it as "a falsification of history," and warned it could cause the Middle East to "explode."

Hamas also declared Tuesday a "day of rage and alarm" and called on Arabs and Muslims to "come to the aid of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa."

"Israel is playing with fire and touching off the first spark to make the region explode," he said.

Hatem Abdel Qader, who oversees Jerusalem affairs for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah, said: "This is not just a synagogue.

"This synagogue will be a prelude to violence, extremism and religious fanaticism, and that will not be limited to extremist Jews but includes members of the Israeli government."

The United States however, called Palestinian comments incitement.

"We are deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterising the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions we see," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

"We call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement," he said, without singling out officials by name.

The ceremony was attended by parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin, ministers and the chief rabbis of Israel.

Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, placed at the entrance of the synagogue a mezuza -- the parchment scroll inscribed with a verse from the Torah and placed in a case which Jewish families hang on door frames.

Monday's ceremony came as Israel barred men under the age of 50 and non-Muslims from entering the Al-Aqsa mosque compound for a fourth day running after clashes between police and Palestinians in and around the site.

Meshaal, the leader of Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip, denounced the ceremony.

"We warn against this action by the Zionist enemy to rebuild and dedicate the Hurva synagogue. It signifies the destruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the building of the temple," he said in Syria.

Al-Aqsa and the rebuilt Hurva synagogue are around 700 metres (yards) apart in the Old City.

The Al-Aqsa compound is Islam's third holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is also Judaism's holiest site because it was the location of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The synagogue was first built in 1694 and destroyed 21 years later by Ottoman authorities who held power at the time.

The site lay empty for many years and acquired the name "Hurva," Hebrew for ruin, before being rebuilt in 1864 and becoming a centre for the Jewish community in the Holy Land.

It was blown to pieces in 1948, after Jordan captured the Old City from the newly established state of Israel, during the battle for control of Jerusalem.

The synagogue's latest incarnation is the result of a 20-million-dollar (15-million-euro) government-funded restoration project.

The ceremony was held hot on the heels of a controversial Israeli decision to build 1,600 new Jewish settlements in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem, leading the Palestinians to rule out peace talks until the move is reversed.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Monday, 15 March 2010 07:43 PM
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