An Israeli demolition squad has smashed the foundations of a mosque
being built near the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth - the
largest Christian church in the Middle East.
An Israeli court ordered the demolition of the Shihab al-Din mosque -
which did not have a building permit - in March.
Israeli security forces moved in with bulldozers at the site around
dawn while most of the city's Muslims were sleeping.
Protestors headed to the site and several were arrested, and a number
scuffled with the police, the BBC's James Reynolds says.
The mosque has been a source of contention for years between Muslim
and Christian leaders and Israeli authorities.
Christian leaders said building a mosque so close to the basilica
would be disrespectful.
Muslims cherish the site because a Muslim religious leader is buried
Pope John Paul II threatened to cancel a visit in 2000 over the
issue, and US President George W Bush raised the subject with Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during a meeting the following year.
About 40% of the Arab Israeli city of Nazareth is Christian, the rest
of the population is Muslim.
But the Christian population has been shrinking, and is now estimated
to be less than 4% of the population of Israel and the Palestinian-
Gov't razes foundations of unauthorized Nazareth mosque
By Uri Ash and Haaretz Service
1 July 2003
In an operation that began in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday in the
northern town of Nazareth, the Interior Ministry sent large
bulldozers to demolish the foundations of the unauthorized Shehab
a-Din mosque, which Muslems sought to erect next to the town's
Church of the Annunciation.
Although protest at the site was minor, angry Muslim leaders
condemned the move, tying it to reports that Israel was quietlly
allowing Jews to enter the Temple Mount after a long suspension of
MK Abdelmalik Dahamshe of the United Arab List accused the
Bush administration and the Sharon government of having banded
together for a "war on Islam."
"The new crusade of the Bush-Sharon axis of evil in the world is
against Islam. It's no wonder that on same day, they demolish the
foundations of the mosque in Nazereth, and announce visits on the
Noble Sanctuary (the Temple Mount).
Some 500 police and were deployed in and around the city, where the
effort to build the mosque has prompted friction between Israeli
Arab Christians and Muslems since late 1997, when a group of Muslims
put up a tent at the site and declared it a mosque.
The demolition, expected to be completed by the end of the day,
follows a court order at the conclusion of a protracted legal
battle. Immediately after the demolition work has ended, the Housing
Ministry plans to begin building a large central municipal square at
A number of demonstrators were arrested or detained near the
foundations Tuesday, including the city's deputy mayor, Salman Abu
Ahmed, arrested for blocking a road near the site. On the whole,
however, protests were much milder than security forces had feared.
The large church is a focus of Christian pilgrimage from abroad.
Israel granted the national Islamic Trust (Waqf) permission in 1999
to build a mosque somje 500 meters from the church. The site houses
the tomb of Shehab e-Din, nephew of the Muslim leader Saladin who
ousted the Crusaders from the Holy Land eight centuries ago.
Christian tradition holds that the basilica marks the site where the
angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she would bear the son of God.
The prospect of a mosque rising near the basilica alarmed the
minority Christian population of Nazareth, disturbing a delicate
religious balance in Israel's leading Arab city, where riots between
the two communities erupted in April 1999.
The Vatican and U.S. churches voiced concern, leading to an Israeli
ministerial review of the project and a cabinet decision in March
2002 to end construction of the mosque on grounds the Waqf failed to
obtain proper building permits. The decision has since been upheld
by Israeli courts.
Earlier this month, the Nazareth District Court rejected an appeal
by the Religious Trust and ordered that the demolition go ahead.
"The demolition is simply a provocation, aimed at riding roughshod
over the Muslim population of Nazareth," Abu Ahmed said before his
"I call on everyone to gather here and and make decisions. It is a
disgrace for the government of Israel to destroy a mosque that lacks
authorization, at the same time that hundreds, even thousands of
houses standing in and around the city lack permits."
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