Al-Aksa Mosque

   Considered by Muslims to be the third holiest site in Islam (after Mecca and Medina, both in Saudi Arabia), it was initially constructed in the year 638 on Jerusalem's Temple Mount overlooking the Western Wall and on land believed by Jews to be the site of the First and Second Temples. It suffered from neglect and disrepair under Ottoman rule. Under the British mandate, responsibility for the care of the mosque was granted to Abdullah, the emir of Transjordan, who appointed a waqf (Islamic holy trust) to administer it and other Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. Though designated in the 1947 UN Partition Plan (see PALESTINE PARTITION PLAN) to be under international administration, the mosque, along with the rest of Jerusalem's old city, was occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. The areas fell to Israeli control in the Six-Day War (1967).
   Owing to Muslim sensitivities, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ordered the removal of the Israeli flag from the minaret above Al-Aksa Mosque and forbade Israeli soldiers from setting foot on any part of the mosque or the surrounding Temple Mount. Pledging to Muslim and Christian authorities that their religious rights in Jerusalem would be respected under Israeli administration, Dayan took steps to ensure that control over the administration of Al-Aksa Mosque remained in the hands of the Jordanian-dominated waqf.
   Despite Israeli efforts to abide by these commitments, the mosque and the Temple Mount was a source of protracted tension between Arabs and Israelis and the setting for several violent incidents. In January 1984, Israeli security forces discovered a cache of weapons and explosives hidden near the mosque; these were to be used in an attack by ultra-Orthodox Jewish militants (members of the "Temple Mount Faithful") determined to start construction of a Third Temple there. In October 1990, violent clashes involving stone-throwing Palestinian youths, Jewish religious zealots, and Israeli forces resulted in the deaths of 19 Arabs and the wounding of more than 140 others; some Israeli soldiers and civilians as well as tourists praying at the Western Wall directly below the Temple Mount were also wounded in the incident.
   The Al-Aksa Mosque is also a source of inter-Arab rivalry. In the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994, it was stipulated that in any permanent peace agreement, consideration would be given to Jordan's special interest in the mosque and in other Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. This provision was perceived by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a direct challenge to its political interests in Jerusalem. In reaction, the PLO established its own waqf over Jerusalem to compete with the Jordanian-sponsored one, and pro-Jordanian journalists and newspapers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were harassed by Palestinian officials. Also involved in the inter-Arab rivalry is the government of Saudi Arabia, which seeks to justify its claim over the mosque by virtue of Saudi administration over Mecca and Medina.
   See also Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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