U.S. condemns Palestinian report on Western Wall

WASHINGTON Tue Nov 30, 2010 9:53pm EST

WASHINGTON Nov 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department condemned on Tuesday an official Palestinian report last week asserting that Jerusalem's 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 disputing Jews' reverence of the shrine as a retaining wall of the compound of Biblical Jewish Temples destroyed centuries ago.

"We strongly condemn these comments and fully reject them as factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.

"We have repeatedly raised with the Palestinian Authority leadership the need to consistently combat all forms of delegitimization of Israel, including denying historic Jewish connections to the land," he added.

Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "denial of the connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information is baseless and scandalous."

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.

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 a five-year renovation plan for the Western Wall area on Nov. 21.

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 soon after they began in September when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial building freeze in West Bank settlements. (Reporting by Emily Stephenson; editing by Mohammad Zargham)