Israel has seized municipal power from the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs in order to "renovate" the Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied city of Hebron.
The renovations will include the installation of an elevator to allow people with disabilities, including tourists and Jewish worshippers, to access the holy site.
Permission for the move has been granted by Defence Minister Naftali Bennett. The far-right minister has also instructed the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), General Kamil Abu Rukon, to take all necessary action, including the expropriation of land close to the site to advance what is essentially another illegal Israeli settlement project.
The Old City of Hebron, Al-Khalil in Arabic, includes the Ibrahimi Mosque and is known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs. It is a highly contested site and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017.
Israel has steadily taken control of the mosque to facilitate worship by the small group of illegal Jewish settlers who have moved into the centre of the Old City at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants. Access to the mosque for Muslim worship is controlled tightly by the occupation authorities and, on occasion, is banned altogether.
The settlement project has the approval of the Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry, and has been delayed for years, Bennett claimed yesterday. "The time has come to move forward. We have green-lighted the elevator project to end the many years of discrimination at the site. Every person, irrespective of whether or not they are disabled, should have the opportunity to visit the tomb, which is an important Jewish heritage site," he said. "This is what it means to develop the settlements, with deeds and not words. I thank the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister for their help in this matter."
In response, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates condemned in "the strongest terms" the proposal to seize more Palestinian land near the mosque for a settlement project. As well as the elevator for the settlers, the ministry said that this is an attempt to change the" Arab and Islamic character of the mosque."
According to Wafa news agency, Israel has used the coronavirus outbreak in order to implement this project while the attention of the world is focused elsewhere.
The PA Ministry added that this decision and others related to the illegal settlements will be on the table of the International Criminal Court since it is another criminal act by the occupation state.