The Israeli government is preventing burials in an ancient Muslim cemetery in the Old City of Jerusalem, a move that could inflame fresh tensions in the city’s Muslim community, an Islamic official said Wednesday.

Sheik Azzam al-Khatib, head of Jerusalem’s Council for Waqf and Islamic Affairs, said the city’s Muslims used the cemetery for 1,400 years, until August 2006, when Avi Dichter, Israel’s minister of public security, ordered a halt to new burials because the site had spread beyond its original boundaries.

“This is an affront against the rights of Muslims,” al-Khatib said, charging that it was part of efforts to boost the Jewish presence in largely Arab east Jerusalem.

The cemetery lies near the plateau known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, which was the site of the Biblical Jewish temples. The Al Aqsa mosque compound that stands there today houses Islam’s third-holiest shrine.

The area is a tinderbox for Palestinian-Israeli tensions. In February, Israeli work on a ramp leading to the hilltop site touched off clashes between police and local Muslims and brought cries of protest from around the Islamic world.


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