The restoration projects that keep Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa in good repair 

A picture taken on July 12, 2016 from inside the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem old city, shows the Muslim shrine following a restoration. (AFP/File Photo)
A picture taken on July 12, 2016 from inside the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem old city, shows the Muslim shrine following a restoration. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 13 March 2021

The restoration projects that keep Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa in good repair 

A picture taken on July 12, 2016 from inside the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem old city, shows the Muslim shrine following a restoration. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Israeli attempts to stop renovations to the Dome of the Rock in January brought into focus ongoing projects in the Old City
  • Al-Aqsa compound has seen five major restoration cycles undertaken by the Hashemite Fund since 1922 at a cost of $2.1 billion

AMMAN, JORDAN: Restoration work has been underway at Jerusalem’s holy sites for almost a century now, with a total of five major initiatives funded by the Hashemite royal family of Jordan.

Ongoing projects in the Old City of Jerusalem, a UNESCO World Heritage site, were brought into focus by a flare-up in tensions in January this year when Israeli police tried to stop renovations to the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine.

The current monarch, King Abdullah II, has continued his father and great-grandfather’s mission, establishing in 2007 the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

In December 2016, an eight-year project to renovate and preserve the mosaics of the Dome of the Rock and the Qibly Mosque concluded with the restoration of about 16 million mosaic tiles — the first such project in 500 years.

Wasfi Al-Kailani, executive director of the Hashemite Fund, told Arab News that the royal family’s funds have spent nearly JOD 1.5 billion ($2.1 billion) on these projects since 1922.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, also known as the Qibly Mosque, is situated inside the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram al-Sharif, alongside the Dome of the Rock — the iconic gold-capped mosque built on the site where Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven by night on a winged horse.

The Umayyad Caliph Abdel Malik ibn Marwan commissioned its construction and it was completed during the reign of his son, Al-Walid, in the year 705. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the three holiest sites in Islam, along with Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia.

However, the Jewish people also lay claim to the same site, known to their faith as the Temple Mount. They believe the mosque is the site of the remains of two destroyed Jewish temples. As a result, to this day the compound remains both a symbolic and a literal flashpoint in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian problem.

An engineer dry cleaning the mosaic painting after renovating some impaired pieces. (Supplied)

According to international law, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which is directly affiliated with the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places, is the official supervisor of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the endowments of Jerusalem. Jordan still maintains the exclusive right to supervise religious affairs in Jerusalem according to the peace agreement it signed with Israel in 1994.

The first restoration, which began in 1922 and concluded in 1952, saw the Islamic Higher Council (IHC) created to preserve Islamic deals and protect the sanctuaries of Palestine.

Under the leadership of Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, the IHC raised funds to restore the Dome of the Rock. King Abdullah I, the first ruler of Transjordan, personally supervised the restoration work, which included the retiling of ancient artworks.

During the 1948 war, the Old City of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher suffered considerable damage. Immediately after the end of the war, King Abdullah I visited Al-Aqsa and launched the restoration of the Mihrab Zakariah (Niche of the Al-Aqsa).

King Abdullah II inspects the final stage of restoring typical copy of Minbar Salhahudeen designed and manufactured in Amman before installing it in Al-Aqsa Qibli Mosque in 2007. (Supplied)

The king was deeply committed to preserving the holy places throughout his reign until his assassination in Qibly Mosque on July 20, 1951.

Abdullah’s grandson, King Hussein, took on the mantle by launching a second wave of restoration efforts from 1952 to 1964 and founding the Jordanian Law of the Hashemite Restoration Committee in 1954.

Over the centuries the Dome of the Rock had lost its golden sheen and was letting in water. The lead plates adorning the dome had to be replaced with aluminum support beams and new gilded plates.

“When Caliph Abdel Malik decided to cover the mosque with gold, he appealed to Muslims to contribute their gold jewelry,” said Al-Kailani.

“Until this day, we see in the transparent offering box in Al-Aqsa Mosque both paper money and jewelry that women contribute to the restoration effort.”


$2.1 bn

* Money spent by Hashemite funds for the restoration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif since 1922.

Some of the most significant restoration work took place in the third cycle after Michael Dennis Rohan, an Australian Christian extremist, attempted to torch the compound’s ancient buildings on Aug. 21, 1969.

The 1,000-year-old wood and ivory carved Saladin pulpit — known as the Minbar of Salah Al-Din — was destroyed in the fire. The pulpit had been brought from Aleppo to Jerusalem by Salah Al-Din himself after his liberation of Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187.

Its replacement, designed to resemble the original, was finally installed in 2007 at a cost of $2.115 million to the Jordanian treasury. Repairs to the fire damage are ongoing.

The fourth restoration began in the early 1990s to address weathering and other wear and tear to the Dome of the Rock. Some 1,200 copper and nickel plates, gilded with 24-carat gold, were installed, alongside new roof supports and fireproofing.

Hashemite Fund Director Dr. Wasfi Kailani and engineer Ra’ef Najem join Awqaf Council members in celebrating the finishing of the 2008-2016 important phase of renovating the mosaic in the Dome of the Rock, July 2016. (Supplied)

“His Majesty the late King Hussein sold his house in Britain for £8.5 million, which he donated to renovate the golden dome with 24-carat golden covering,” said Al-Kailani. The restoration brought back the dome’s glittering splendor.

Even so, in recent years the leak in the roof of the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall had become unbearable. Every time it rained, the wet ceiling would drip onto the heads of Muslim worshippers as they prayed in Bab Al-Rahmeh on the periphery of the Al-Aqsa compound.

Israeli police were repeatedly blocking attempts to repair the roof of the small building, tucked just inside the closed Golden Gate, despite regular appeals by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.

Then, on Jan. 22, a Palestinian man, wearing a keffiyeh over his face to conceal his identity from Israeli surveillance cameras, climbed onto the roof of Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall and repaired the leak. The Israeli police responded with a ban on restoration work and an embargo on all goods and materials coming into the compound.

Bassam Al-Hallaq, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque’s Hashemite Restoration Department, was outraged by the move, telling Jordan TV’s Eye on Jerusalem program: “I have worked for 40 years and this is the first time that our work has been interrupted.”

An Israeli policewoman stands guard at an entrance of the al-Aqsa compound, leading to the Dome of the Rock mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 18, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (AFP/File Photo)

Azzam Khatib, the director-general of the Jordanian Jerusalem Waqf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Directorate, refused to take the embargo lying down. The Waqf Council met and issued a statement condemning the Israeli action.

Omar Kiswani, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, said that repairing and restoring the entire compound is the right of the Islamic Waqf and that Israeli authorities have no right to interfere.

Khatib also informed Ghassan Majali, Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, and Mohammad Khalaileh, the minister of Waqf in Amman, leading to a strong statement of protest from Jordan’s foreign ministry.

The combined pressure campaign worked. Four days after the ban was imposed, the Israeli authorities rescinded the order, allowing restoration work to continue.

“We were able to return to our regular work and bring in all the needed equipment and items needed,” Al-Hallaq said.

“The challenge of restoration has always been how to safeguard the authentic character of every historic segment of Al-Aqsa,” said Al-Kailani of the Hashemite Fund.

A Palestinian woman walks as snow falls at the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound, on February 17, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

For his part, Al-Hallaq says many of the restoration projects have faced obstruction by Israeli authorities — and more hurdles are expected in future. In addition to the ban on renovations at Bab Al-Rahmeh, Israel has also prevented any attempts to light up the top of the Dome of the Rock.

“Even before the controversy over the repair of the Bab Al-Rahmeh, Israel had banned some of the work, such as the lighting of the golden dome and the fire extinguishing system inside Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said.

“We have noticed that the current lighting of the Dome of the Rock doesn’t reach the top areas. We have the money and the plans to erect a lighting system that will allow the illumination of the entire Dome of the Rock, but Israel bans the erection of any towers that are needed to light the dome.”

Al-Hallaq says overcoming these obstacles is an important part of the historic and religious duty of Muslims to defend their holy places.

“When you work as an engineer or artisan here, you are always working at risk from Israel,” he said. “But despite all this, while we suffer from these interventions, we are steadfast and insistent on continuing the restoration efforts.”


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US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
Updated 6 sec ago

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
  • Planned changes to district boundaries could affect nine members of Congress who have a record of voicing support on Palestinian issues

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
Updated 03 December 2021

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
  • They posed as Iranian dissidents and smuggled bombs into the Natanz facility disguised as food
  • Israel had pledged to never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

LONDON: Agents from the Mossad convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities by “posing as dissidents” and smuggling explosives disguised as food into facilities, according to reports.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, Israeli agents convinced up to 10 scientists to destroy the Natanz nuclear facility, wiping out 90 percent of its centrifuges – crucial for research into nuclear weapons.

They are said to have smuggled some explosives into the plant in food lorries, while others were dropped in via drones and picked up by scientists – who they convinced to use against the nuclear sites by posing as Iranian dissidents.

The attack on the facility is just one of a long line of Israeli sabotages of Iranian nuclear facilities, a strategy that they have engaged in more as Iranian nuclear research has progressed.

The Natanz facility, a critical nuclear research site, has been hit by at least three attacks linked to the Israeli secret service, the Mossad.

In another incident, agents used a quadcopter drone to fire missiles at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company in an attempt to disrupt its research.

In recent years, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran has increased its atomic energy research, including enriching growing quantities of uranium above the levels required for civilian nuclear activity such as energy production.

In April Iran said that it would start enriching uranium up to 60 percent after the attack on its Natanz plant which it blamed on Israel – that is closing in on the 90 to 95 percent enrichment required for nuclear weapons.

This week – much to the ire of Israel – Iran and the US returned to the negotiating table to try to find a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for relief from crushing economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US and its allies.

But on Thursday, Israeli officials called on the US directly to cease those negotiations.

In a phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for “concrete measures” to be taken against Iran.

He said that Tehran was carrying out “nuclear blackmail” as a negotiation tactic and that “this must be met with an immediate cessation of negotiations and by concrete steps taken by the major powers,” according to a statement released by his office.

The Israeli leader also expressed his concern about a new report from the UN, issued during the US-Iran talks in Vienna, which showed that Iran had “started the process of enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo underground facility.”

Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has pledged never to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns
Updated 03 December 2021

Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi has officialy submitted his resignation on Friday to “give Lebanon a chance.”
“I will resign this afternoon,” Kordahi earlier told AFP. “I do not want to cling to this position, if it can be useful, I want to give Lebanon a chance.”
An official at the presidency confirmed to AFP that President Michel Aoun had received a call from Kordahi confirming he would submit his resignation.

UAE, France sign $18 bilion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 bilion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
Updated 03 December 2021

UAE, France sign $18 bilion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 bilion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
  • Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar

DUBAI: French President Emmanuel Macron met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Friday at the start of a two-day Gulf tour that saw France sell the UAE 80 French-made Rafale warplanes for $18.08 billion (€16 billion). 
France’s Defense Minister said the deal was France’s largest-ever weapons contract for export while the Minister for the Armed Forces hailed the deal as "historic."

There was no immediate confirmation of the deal from Emirati officials. Macron was greeted at the leadership pavilion at Dubai’s Expo site for talks with Sheikh Mohammed, known as “MBZ."
“I don’t want to reveal the Christmas present” before the meeting, UAE presidential adviser Anwar Gargash told journalists in the build-up to the talks in Dubai.
Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar, host of next year’s World Cup, before traveling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The UAE, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday, is expected to order dozens of Rafale jets to replace its Mirage 2000 aircraft acquired in the late 1990s.
The Emirates is the fifth biggest customer for the French defense industry with $5.31 billion (€4.7 billion) from 2011-2020, according to a parliamentary report.
Macron is accompanied by a large delegation in Dubai including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Defense Minister Florence Parly.

Saudi Arabia calls on Syria to comply with chemical weapons watchdog

Saudi Arabia calls on Syria to comply with chemical weapons watchdog
Updated 03 December 2021

Saudi Arabia calls on Syria to comply with chemical weapons watchdog

Saudi Arabia calls on Syria to comply with chemical weapons watchdog

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has urged Syrian authorities to cooperate with the chemical weapons watchdog and implement all decisions related to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Kingdom’s position on the matter was reiterated by the Saudi permanent representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ziyad Al-Attiyah.

He said: “The use of chemical weapons and toxic chemicals as weapons anywhere by any person and under any circumstances is reprehensible and completely contradicts the provisions of the convention and the legal rules and standards of the international community.”

His comments came during the 26th session of the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention on Thursday in The Hague, in the Netherlands.

Al-Attiyah also highlighted the importance his country attached to implementing its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, believing in its objectives, and based on its consistent policy to strengthen cooperation to ban weapons of mass destruction and prevent their spread.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia was keen to help free the Middle East of all WMDs, a move that would increase international peace and security.

Al-Attiyah thanked the organization’s director general, Fernando Arias, for his efforts toward the cause, adding that the Kingdom would be supporting his reappointment for a second term.