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Israel angered by Palestinian report on Western Wall
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinian leadership on Thursday to renounce an official Palestinian report asserting the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, is not Jewish.
Al-Mutawakil Taha, deputy information minister in the Palestinian Authority, published a five-page study on Wednesday disputing Jews' reverence of the shrine as a retaining wall of the compound of Biblical Jewish Temples destroyed centuries ago.
The wall is adjacent to a politically sensitive holy complex in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in a 1967 war. The area, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is home to al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
"Denial of the connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information is baseless and scandalous," Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the prime minister's office.
"The Israeli government expects the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to renounce the document and condemn it, and to stop twisting historical facts," he said.
In the report, Taha wrote the Western wall is a "Muslim wall and an integral part of al-Aqsa mosque and Haram al-Sharif," a position echoing past statements by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Taha issued the document after Israel approved on Sunday a five-year renovation plan for the Western Wall area.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem, where the Western Wall is located, after the 1967 conflict and claimed all of Jerusalem as its capital in a move that has not won international recognition.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they want to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
U.S.-brokered peace talks are supposed to address the issue of Jerusalem, but the negotiations were put on hold by the Palestinians shortly after they began in September when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial building freeze in West Bank settlements.
Netanyahu said the Palestinian position paper on the Western Wall "raises a very serious question" as to whether the Palestinian Authority truly intends to reach a peace agreement with Israel "based on co-existence and mutual recognition."
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Maria Golovnina)
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