Nazareth mosque building halted
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel has said it has ordered the halt to the construction of a mosque at a site near the Christian Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, a project that has angered the Vatican.
"We have asked the Muslim community to stop digging the foundations because they have no building permits," said Emmanuel Nachshon, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman on Thursday.
Local officials in Nazareth, the town of Jesus's boyhood, said the digging was stopped on Wednesday.
Israel had earlier approved construction of a mosque on a mix of public and Islamic Trust land close to the basilica.
The decision drew Vatican ire and angered leaders of Christian denominations in the Holy Land.
A statement by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land released by a Vatican-linked news agency said the group "deplores the decision by the Israeli government to authorise the start of work."
Plans called for part of the mosque to be built over the tomb of Shehab el-Din, nephew of the Muslim hero Saladin who ousted the Crusaders from the Holy Land eight centuries ago.
Christians believe the Basilica of the Annunciation is built on the spot where the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she would give birth to the son of God.
Nachshon said any approval of the resumption of work at the site would take into consideration the "different religious aspects" in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel.
The issue stirred communal tensions throughout 1999 ahead of Pope John Paul II's March 2000 pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
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