Vital repair work began Sunday to a bridge that serves as the sole entry point for Jews and non-Muslim tourists to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, due to a risk of collapse.
The start of maintenance work on the Mughrabi Bridge was announced by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which said it would take a few days to complete.
As part of the maintenance work, part of the women’s prayer section of the Western Wall plaza will be closed off, said the foundation that administers the plaza and prayer arrangements at the site.
The tenuous state of the Mughrabi Bridge has raised fears of another disaster months, after a deadly crush at a religious festival in northern Israel killed 45 people.
Days after the tragedy in May, Ofer Cohen, 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.
In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Cohen said the hastily constructed bridge’s wooden beams were “in a state of extreme dryness” and severely cracked. He urged authorities “to act immediately to replace the bridge in order to make safe its use.”
In response to the engineer’s report, the state said it would conduct a gradual replacement of the wooden beams that are in bad shape, Channel 13 news reported earlier this month.
The move would allow the temporary bridge to continue being used, as Israel has no current plans for a permanent solution, the report said.
The Mughrabi Bridge leading from near the Western Wall plaza to the Mughrabi Gate of the Temple Mount compound was hastily constructed 15 years ago as a temporary replacement for an earthen access ramp that was in danger of collapsing at the time.
The structural engineer had recommended replacing the bridge with a metal one that would be more durable and fireproof. However, that would likely inflame tensions with the Palestinians and with Jordan, who view any building activity in the area as a provocation against Muslims.
The Temple Mount compound is considered the holiest place in Judaism as it is the site where the first and second Jewish Temples once stood. It also houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Israel captured the Temple Mount, and the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem, from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, and annexed it, but it allowed Jordan’s Waqf (Muslim trust) to continue to oversee the compound and other Islamic sites in Jerusalem. Israel allows Jews and other non-Muslims to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there (though such instances have also been increasing).
In 2014, Israel dismantled a partially built wooden access ramp that had been under construction and would have replaced the bridge. But under heavy Jordanian pressure, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that the structure be removed, saying its construction was “illegal” and had never received the proper authorization, a government source said at the time.