Monday, September 24, 2007

King renews Jordan support for Jerusalem’s holy sites, residents

AMMAN - His Majesty King Abdullah said that looking after Jerusalem’s holy sites and supporting the steadfastness of its people are “at the centre of our attention” and are a duty for all Muslims. At a meeting with the Hashemite Fund for the Construction of Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock’s Board of Trustees, the King noted that the fund was launched mainly to institutionalise work for the holy city.
He urged the fund officials to do their utmost to stand up to the “multifaceted” challenges facing their work.
Announcing a JD1.113 million donation to the fund, His Majesty ordered a month’s salary to be dispensed to awqaf officials in Jerusalem, as a gesture of support.
The Monarch discussed with board members problems related to the fund’s work and called on all concerned parties to coordinate their efforts and consult over any hurdles blocking projects planned for the holy places.
Under the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace accord, the Kingdom enjoys a special status as the party in charge of the holy sites in Jerusalem, continuing a role the Hashemite leaders of the country have pursued since 1924.
The administratively and financially independent fund was established by the King last year. Yesterday’s meeting was the first by its board of trustees, chaired by HRH Prince Ghazi, after the law governing the institution went into force in April.
In his remarks at the meeting, Prince Ghazi stressed the need for coordination among parties concerned with Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Acknowledging that the three official bodies concerned with the holy city are coordinating well among each other, he said, however, that “there are funds raised in the name of Jerusalem [by other parties] that never reach Jerusalem”.
The other two organisations are Al Aqsa Restoration Committee and the Royal Commission for Jerusalem Affairs.
The Hashemite Fund’s mission, according to the law, is “to secure the necessary funding to look after Al Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and other Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem to ensure sustainable construction and maintenance”.
Prince Ghazi told the press following the meeting that the fund would be working to streamline fund-raising to ensure that money is used properly. The fund, he said, would serve as an umbrella body for all institutions concerned with Jerusalem affairs.
The Prince also called for supporting the residents of Jerusalem to enable them to resist Israeli attempts to evict them from their city.
He cited previous remarks by the King, expressing concerns that Jerusalem, due to the Israeli policies, might turn into a “museum” where the old sites and antiquities remain there, but without people.
“For 40 years, the Jerusalemites have been the ones who defended Jerusalem,” Prince Ghazi said, adding the fund will focus much of its efforts on supporting the Arab residents of the holy city.
At the meeting, Chief Islamic Justice Ahmad Hilayel warned of land sales in Jerusalem, saying the fund is expected to address this problem.
Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Abdul Fattah Salah briefed the King on the projects under way, including fire warning and extinguishing systems.
He also highlighted a plan to train Jordanians on restoration works in Italy, to join Italian experts fixing worn-out mosaic pieces and other artistic features of Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. Local experts will be handling such restoration projects in the future.
Head of the restoration committee, Raef Najem, and awqaf assistant secretary general for Jerusalem affairs, Abdul Atheem Salhab, focused in their remarks on Israeli interference in the restoration plans.
Najem said the Israeli side has, since 2000, stepped up interference in maintenance works in a bid to abort the project.
The Israelis, he said, have come with a plan to construct a metal bridge that is likely to adversely affect the holy shrine. The committee and the Awqaf Ministry, he added, have come up with two separate alternative designs that will within days be presented to UNESCO, which “regretfully endorsed the Israeli design”.
The King said he has concerns over the behaviour of the Israeli authorities and directed concerned parties to update him with any development so that action be taken at the political level.
At a meeting with top clerics last Ramadan, King Abdullah announced a competition to design a fifth minaret for Al Aqsa, which was expected to cost JD400,000 to 500,000. He also donated a huge carpet to Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

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