Start of Construction on Nazareth Mosque Stirs a Protest

Custody of Holy Land Warns Israelis of a «State of Permanent Siege»

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JERUSALEM, NOV. 14, 2001 ( Excavation began this week for the foundation of what will be a mosque in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, triggering a protest from the Catholic Church.

In an official statement, the Custody of the Holy Land deplored the authorization given by the government to this project and called for the immediate withdrawal of the building permit.

The statement, signed by Franciscan Father David-Maria A. Jaeger and distributed by the Vatican agency Fides, reads: «This activity is taking place in total disregard of the oft-expressed feelings and pleas of the worldwide Christian community.»

The text emphasizes that not only Christian leaders worldwide have repeatedly requested the Israeli government to prohibit the construction of the mosque. This position has also been adopted by Muslim representatives such as Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Imam Hussein Tantawi, the Egyptian sheik of al-Azhar.

In fact, the mosque is not a necessity for the Muslim community of Nazareth, which already has places of worship, but rather the project of a local fundamentalist group.

On April 4, 1999, while Catholics celebrated Easter and Orthodox observed Palm Sunday in the Basilica of the Annunciation, members of the fundamentalist group attacked and wounded Christians. Since 1998, the fundamentalists have committed other offenses, including the destruction of stores.

The Custody of the Holy Land states that the «Israeli courts have already decided that the land is state land and that the extremists´ demands are groundless. Nonetheless, the government itself has decided to give it to them.»

«Building the mosque here will in effect put this holy place in a state of permanent siege and make its gate a gathering place for the most hostile elements,» the statement warns.

«Problems underlined often by the Custody, but with no response,» Father Jaeger added.

«It is difficult to escape the suspicion that what we are now seeing is a cynical attempt to exploit the present international situation, as well as the dramatic conditions elsewhere in the Holy Land, in order to carry out, almost by stealth, this harmful plan,» the Franciscan concluded.

Nazareth, a city inhabited by Muslims and Christians, is located in Israeli territory.

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