Jerusalem — Israel's Cabinet voted to push ahead with construction work on a ramp leading to a disputed holy site in Jerusalem, despite objections from the Muslim world and violent Palestinian protests.
Tensions in the city have been high since last week, when Israel began work outside the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The new walkway is meant to replace an ancient earthen ramp that partially collapsed in a snowstorm three years ago.
Arab leaders have accused Israel of trying to harm Muslim holy sites. Israel denies the repair work and accompanying excavations will come anywhere near the compound.
Some Cabinet ministers, including Defense Minister Amir Peretz, suggested last week that work should be frozen because of the protests. But the Cabinet decided overwhelmingly to push ahead Sunday. There were no objections to the decision, the government said, though three ministers abstained. A participant in the meeting said the three were from the dovish Labor Party, including Peretz and the Cabinet's only Muslim minister.
Ahead of the vote, workmen returned under heavy guard to the site in the walled Old City after a break Saturday for the Jewish Sabbath.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused "people with ulterior motives in the international Arab world" of using the construction as a pretext "to fan the flames of hostility and hatred."
However, Arab efforts to stop the construction continued.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa instructed Arab ambassadors at the U.N. to discuss the possibility of calling for an urgent meeting of the Security Council to discuss the construction.
The Old City hilltop compound has been a catalyst for earlier rounds of Israel-Palestinian fighting. It houses the third holiest site for Muslims, who believe it is where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
The compound is Judaism's holiest site, venerated as the location of two biblical temples, and Jews gather to pray near one of its outer retaining walls, known as the Western Wall.
Despite calls for Muslim to forcibly resist the renovation work, there have been only limited clashes and no one has been seriously injured.
On Friday, about 200 riot police firing stun grenades and tear gas battled rock-throwing protesters among the 3,000 Muslim worshippers there. The next day, Palestinian teenagers stoned Israeli security forces, burned an Israeli flag and pelted a Canadian tour bus with rocks.
A few incidents of minor violence were reported at the site on Sunday, a significant reduction from the previous two days.