Arab Today, arab today more risks ahead for jerusalems alaqsa compound
Last Updated : GMT 04:52:20
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More risks ahead for Jerusalem's al-Aqsa compound

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today More risks ahead for Jerusalem's al-Aqsa compound

Palestinian women shout slogan
Jerusalem - Arab Today

Three days of clashes between Israeli police and Muslim protesters rocked Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound this week as Jews celebrated their new year, and there are fears of more trouble with a series of religious holidays approaching.

The sensitive site is regularly hit by unrest, with concerns that such tensions could lead to further volatility in the Middle East.

Why is the compound so volatile?

Believed to be where the Prophet Mohammed made his night journey to heaven, it is the third-holiest site in Islam after the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, both in Saudi Arabia.

Known to Muslims as Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), the compound houses the famous golden Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa mosque.
The site is also the most sacred in Judaism, with Biblical tradition identifying it as the site of the first and second temples, destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans.

It is located in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967 and at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides see the site as a symbol of religion and nationalism.

The Al-Aqsa compound crystallises the dispute and is a focal point of tensions.

The second Palestinian intifada (uprising) broke out in September 2000 after then opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited. In 1996, tunnel digging under the site provoked deadly clashes.
There has been a recent increase in the number of Jewish visitors, both surrounding Jewish holidays as well as a result of campaigns by Jewish hardliners.

Palestinians are deeply suspicious that Israel will seek to change rules governing the site and some even fear a Jewish takeover.

After Israel annexed East Jerusalem, Jordan retained custodial rights over the holy sites, administered by the Jordanian-run Waqf organisation. Israel however has control over access.
"The site exemplifies political exclusion of Palestinians from what they consider their capital and the inability of their fractured national movement to defend it meaningfully," the International Crisis Group wrote in a recent report.

But beyond that, Al-Aqsa is symbol of the purely sacred, said Mathieu Guidere, a specialist in Islamic studies and radicalism.

Palestinian officials argue that protests in defence of Al-Aqsa are mainly spontaneous. Israeli officials say they are orchestrated and financed by organisations such as the radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

Does Israel want to change the status quo?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he has no intention of changing the status quo governing the site.

Under the rules, Jews and non-Muslim tourists are allowed to visit during set hours five days a week. Jews are however prohibited from praying to avoid exacerbating tensions.
Muslims in theory have access to the site at any time, though Israel imposes age restrictions when tensions rise and bans those it considers a threat.

In October 2014, Israel completely closed the site for the first time in years amid unrest in Jerusalem, raising fears of a potential third intifada in response.

Netanyahu had also for a time limited visits by Jews and Israeli officials, but they have since restarted, said Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group.

Far-right Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who has spoken out in favour of prayer rights for Jews at the site and called for the construction of a third temple, was among those to visit on Sunday.

Beyond worries over deepening volatility, Netanyahu also seems concerned with maintaining strategic relations with Jordan. Amid regional turmoil, the compound is "the remaining focal point of the Palestinian cause in the Muslim world," Guidere said.

At the same time, Netanyahu has "very, very little room to manoeuver," Thrall said, with only a one-seat majority in parliament for his coalition, which includes nationalist and religious figures.

What are the risks?

A potentially difficult period lies ahead. Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, has called for a "day of rage" for Friday to coincide with weekly Muslim prayers.

Wednesday also marks the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur as well as the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Jews celebrate Sukkot the following week, which is expected to result in numerous visits to the compound.

Source: AFP

 

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