- JERUSALEM - The government of Israel may be about to reopen one of the
world's most contested holy sites to Jews and Christians.
- Jews call the site in old Jerusalem the
Temple Mount. It's the holiest place in Judaism, believed to be where ancient
Jewish temples once stood.
- Ariel Sharon Muslims revere the same
site as the Noble Sanctuary. They believe it's where the prophet Mohammed
ascended to heaven. The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque are built
on the site, considered to be the third holiest in Islam.
- Only Muslims have been able to visit
the area since the Palestinian intifada broke out 16 months ago.
- Moslems have worshipped at the site for
1,300 years. Jews believe two ancient temples stood on this same site.
- The Romans destroyed the last of the
Jewish temples in 70 AD, after crushing a Jewish rebellion. Those who survived
were expelled by the Romans from their homeland. The beginning of the Jewish
- It was 16 months ago that now Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon walked on the holy ground accompanied by hundreds of armed
soldiers. Many say that was the spark that ignited the Palestinian uprising.
- The Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary,
has been closed to all visitors, except Muslims, ever since.
- But a recent report from Israel's security
agency, Shin Beth, has recommended reopening the site to Jews and Christians.
- Israel has had overall control of the
area since the 1967 Six Day War. But it gave day-to-day control to local
Muslim authorities with the understanding it would remain open to all religions.
- Now Sharon is said to favour enforcing
that original understanding.
- Youval Steinitz, a member of Sharon's
Likud Party, supports the move. "There is no reason to close the Temple
Mount for non-Muslim visitors - Jews or Christians. If an archaeological
site, for instance in Canada, would be closed for Jews, I think that we
as Jews or the state of Israel, would protest vehemently."
- Yet Muslims and Palestinians are just
as vehemently opposed to reopening the site now, with the intifada once
again gaining momentum. There is a centuries-old fear that the Jews want
to fulfill biblical prophecy and rebuild their temple on the Temple Mount.
- Abdulmalick Dahamshi, an Arab member
of the Israeli Knesset, suggests Sharon is courting disaster if he approves
the move. "He is bringing a religious war with all of the Islamic
world," said Dahamshi.
- Given the sensitivities and the current
political situation even many Jews oppose reopening the Temple Mount now.
- The Israeli cabinet is expected to take
up the matter soon.
- Written by CBC News Online staff