Turkey denies approving Jerusalem holy site project

ANKARA - Turkey said Wednesday that a team of Turkish experts who had inspected renovation work by Israel near Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound disapproved of the controversial project.

"The technical delegation has definitely not approved the project," said a statement from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office, contradicting remarks by Israeli Immigrant Absorption Minister Yaacov Edri Sunday that Turkish experts who had investigated the site in March had okayed the work.

"The report drawn up by the delegation... underlines in particular the errors due to the one-sided approach to the work at Al-Aqsa," the statement said. "The report will be conveyed to all related parties in the shortest time possible."

The project aims to enlarge and bolster a ramp just inside the Old City's Dung Gate that connects the Western Wall prayer plaza -- revered by Jews -- to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine.

Israel began archaeological excavations and repair work for a new ramp in early February, but they were halted after Muslims claimed the project was threatening the foundations of the Al-Aqsa site.

Israel denied the work poses any risk to the holy sites.

Erdogan too had strongly criticized the renovation work and secured Isreli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's approval for a Turkish inspection of the site when he visited Ankara in February.

Israel's Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle said Monday that the Jewish state had put off plans to resume the contested work, on the grounds that it would not contribute to efforts for peace in the Middle East.

han/sf/boc

10/17/2007 16:40 GMT

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