Sharon Opposes Construction of Nazareth Mosque

U.S. Bishops Hail the Decision

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ROME, JAN. 14, 2002 ( Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was opposed to the construction of the mosque in Nazareth, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

«I am completely against the construction of a mosque in that place, near the Basilica of the Annunciation,» Sharon was quoted saying. «It would be a provocation. It can be constructed in another place. I hope this will be my government´s final position.»

The Israeli government decided last Wednesday to halt construction work on the mosque. The mosque is promoted by a local fundamentalist Muslim group. Yasser Arafat opposes the project.

U.S. Catholic bishops sent a message to congratulate Sharon on the decision. In a statement signed on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Illinois, recalled that the building of the mosque was an ongoing source of grave concern for the Holy See and for Christian leaders throughout the world.

The statement reads: «The decision, [to stop the building] which is in accord with Israeli law, reflects an appreciation of the deep religious significance of the basilica for Christians around the world and reassures us of the Israeli government?s full commitment to fulfill its responsibilities toward the Holy Places, particularly with regard to ensuring the status quo.»

Speaking to the Vatican agency Fides, Father David Jaeger, Israel Franciscan of the Holy Land Custody, commented that that «at stake here is the future of relations between Christians and Jews.»

Father Raed Abusahlia, of the offices of the Latin patriarchate of Jerusalem, said that what is needed is a solution to satisfy both parties. «The unity and fraternity between Moslems and Christians in the city should be the winner at the end,» he told Fides. He suggested the opening of a center for interreligious studies.

«The mausoleum of Shihab El-Din [a Muslim leader who fought Christians crusaders] should be restored and very well decorated and another big and beautiful mosque should be built somewhere else in Nazareth,» said Father Raed.

Nathan Chtcharansky, Israeli Minister of Habitat and Construction, has been appointed head of a commission that will propose a solution to the government within two weeks.

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