Netanyahu seeks to ease East Jerusalem
tensions at synagogue dedication

By Nir Hasson and Natasha Mozgovaya | | March 15, 2010

Hurva Synagogue, JerusalemPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders attending the inauguration of a restored synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday tried to calm tensions surrounding Israeli actions in East Jerusalem.

The dedication of the restored Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City could spark riots, police warned on Sunday.

"Many people are excited about this moment - and justifiably so," said Netanyahu at the ceremony. "We have allowed believers in other faiths to conserve their houses of worship. We proudly hold on to our heritage, while at the same time allowing others freedom of religion."

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also sent a message to Palestinian leaders urging calm.

"I want to send a message of peace to all religions," said Barkat, adding that Israel has learned to be sensitive to people of other faiths specifically because of places like the Hurva Synagogue. "I believe that from this place, where we experienced the terrible pain of the destruction of a place that was holy to us...we will know to be sensitive to others doubts and troubles."

Pamphlets distributed in East Jerusalem had claimed the opening of the synagogue was the first step toward the reconstruction of the Temple, while senior Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan and Hatem Abdel Kader, who holds the Jerusalem affairs portfolio in the Palestinian Authority, called upon Israeli Arabs to go to the Temple Mount and protect it from Israel.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department on Monday said it had concerns about the rededication ceremony and called on the Palestinians to end incitement regarding the synagogue's inauguration.

"We have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City," said spokesman Philip J. Crowley. "And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm.

"We're deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement."?

The Hurva, considered the most important synagogue in the country for many years, was destroyed at the end of the War of Independence and restored during the last five years.

Renovated with the help of old photographs, plans and drawings, the synagogue was rebuilt to match the original model identically.