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Controversy over Collapse of Abandoned Mosque in Jaffa

The collapse of the minaret of a long abandoned mosque in Jaffa has raised tension in Arab and other Moslem communities in Israel and triggered a controversy between the Tel Aviv municipality and the government over which was responsible for delaying repairs on the structure, the Hassan Bek mosque.

The minaret, a slender tower from which the Moslem faithful are summoned to prayer, collapsed early Saturday morning. No one was injured. Police engineers ruled out an explosion and said the structure fell apart because of neglect. The mosque has been abandoned since the Israeli state was founded in 1948. Jaffa, once an Arab town, was subsequently incorporated into Tel Aviv.

Two years ago, a private contractor attempted to lease the roofless, unused structure to turn it into a tourist shopping center. The bid was blocked by Moslems and by the Tel Aviv municipality. The Tel Aviv authorities and the local branch of the Wakf, the Moslem property association, agreed that the mosque should be repaired and used once again as a house of worship, although few if any Arabs or Moslems now live in the vicinity.

According to Mayor Shlomo Lehat of Tel Aviv, city engineers drew up plans for the repair work and the necessary funds were promised by the Religious Affairs Ministry. Lehat says the funds have not been forthcoming despite his repeated requests. Ministry sources blame the municipal authorities for the delay. Mean while, Moslem groups have been holding a vigil outside the collapsed structure.

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