A special Israeli government committee is debating whether Nazareth officials should allow Muslims to continue building a mosque alongside the famous Basilica of the Annunciation.
Israeli officials created the committee in response to a new wave of international appeals. Israel decided in 1998 to allow the mosque's construction, despite protests from Nazareth's Christians. The Vatican, the White House, and an international coalition of Catholic and Protestant Christian church groups have opposed construction.
Critics have said that the new mosque could physically overwhelm the adjacent church site and threaten the delicate status quo between Nazareth's Muslim Arab majority and Christian Arab minority.
A public school originally stood on the disputed lot. But local officials tore it down to make way for a tourist plaza as part of Nazareth's Year 2000 development plans.
Before builders could erect the plaza, Nazareth Muslims occupied the 6,500-square-foot site, erecting a tent mosque. The Muslims demanded that Nazareth officials deed the property over to local Islamic authorities. A small shrine to the medieval Islamic warrior Shihab ad-Din is also located on the property.
Construction on the 2,800-square-foot mosque had already begun when the Israeli government halted the project in January. The contractors had no building permit or approved building plan.
The mosque might contain multiple spires that would tower over the black-coned dome of the basilica, says Dave Parsons, a spokesman for the International Christian Embassy, one of the groups protesting the construction.
"It will demean the basilica and force Christians to run a gantlet from the main street to the church," Parsons said. "We want the city authorities to restore ...1