• ISRAEL \ Jan 17, 2002
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    Panel on Nazareth mosque construction to visit disputed site
Panel on Nazareth mosque construction to visit disputed site Chair of the ministerial committee charged with examining the construction of a mosque next to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Natan Sharansky, announced Thursday that the panel will have to visit the disputed site and hold at least one more meeting with experts before presenting its recommendations to the security cabinet.

The committee was set up last week and given two weeks to advise the government on its next steps. But after hearing from representatives of the Waqf Islamic religious trust and the Christian churches, Thursday, Sharansky said that the panel would have to hold further discussions before reaching any conclusions.

Ministers Uzi Landau, Meir Sheetrit, Salah Tarif and Sharansky attended Thursday's meeting, while ministers Matan Vilnai, Eli Yishai and Avigdor Lieberman all stayed away. Church representatives told the panel they were concerned that the construction of the Shihab a-Din mosque would damage Nazareth's Christian character, as happened to Bethlehem.

The Muslim representatives based their argument on the decision of two previous ministerial committees which both gave the go-ahead to the plans to build the mosque so close to the holy site. Sharansky experienced a moment of embarrassment when he was reminded that he actually signed the last committee's decision supporting the building of the mosque.

Nazareth mayor Ramez Jerayssi did not attend the meeting, and his office said that the mayor has decided to boycott the panel meetings as "he has no faith in ministerial committees that merely cover-up decision made by other forums according to political considerations."

Waqf leaders have announced plans for a mass protest prayer meeting Friday and a demonstration on Saturday. They also warned the government and security forces "to act wisely and not to take any foolish steps."