Beliefnet
JERUSALEM, March 23 (AP) - Plans by Muslims to build a mosque near a major Christian shrine in Nazareth, the town of Jesus' boyhood, may be scuttled, an aide to Ariel Sharon said Friday, three days after U.S. President George W. Bush raised the issue with the Israeli prime minister.

During their meeting in Washington, Sharon told Bush he would try to solve the dispute over the planned mosque construction near the Basilica of the Annunciation, built on the spot where tradition says the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus.

Israel's previous government had approved the construction of the mosque, despite sharp protests by Christian leaders. But Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin said another solution would have to be found. ``The solution that was offered before did not work,'' Gissin said, suggesting that the mosque would have to be built on a different parcel of land.

Christians who once dominated the city are now a minority in Nazareth, and tensions between the community and the Muslim majority in the city of 70,000 have been running high.

Muslim officials said Sharon and Bush had no right to interfere. ``I'm very sorry that Mr. Bush has become interested in a small problem in Nazareth,'' said Salman Abu Ahmed, leader of the Islamic movement in Nazareth.

``I sent him a letter to tell him that all the citizens of Nazareth have made a decision to build this mosque on this square of land,'' he said Friday.

The topic came up during Sharon's first official visit as Israel's prime minister to the White House, Gissin said. Bush told Sharon that Christian groups had raised the issue with him. ``He (Bush) wanted to know what was happening,'' Gissin said.

Muslim activists have rejected previous offers to build the mosque elsewhere, saying a Muslim sage was buried near the basilica.

``Mr. Sharon knows very well that this land is holy land for Muslims, and there's no force that can take this land from us,'' Abu Ahmed said.

Abu Ahmed said construction was to begin next month.

At one time, the dispute threatened to derail last year's visit to Nazareth by Pope John Paul II. Catholics wanted to use the mosque site as a staging area for pilgrims, drawing the Vatican into the dispute.A compromise resulted in Muslims agreeing to build a smaller mosque, but still on the empty plot next to the basilica. A temporary mosque has been erected on the site.

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