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JERUSALEM – Mobs of Arab rioters Wednesday intimidated Jewish worshippers, attacked police officers and caused the closure of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.

Jewish visitors had ascended the mount on the day Israelis celebrate as Jerusalem Day, which marks the reunification of the nation’s capital and its liberation from temporary Jordanian occupation.

Hundreds of Jews waited to go up to the site in small groups of about 10 to 15. Arab mobs surrounded one of the first groups to ascend, intimidating the Jewish visitors and yelling at them in Arabic.

Yishai Fleisher, a local activist, said he was with a group of 11 on the mount that was surrounded by about 40 Arabs shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or “Allah is the greatest.”

Fleisher told WND he saw rocks being thrown from the Al Aqsa Mosque at Israeli police and Jewish worshipers. He pointed out that his group was unarmed due to security restrictions that ban weapons on the Temple Mount.

Fleisher captured on video the Arab mob flanking and intimidating his group.

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His was one of dozens of reports of clashes and Arab rock-throwing on the mount today. One policeman was reportedly lightly injured by a stone.

Eventually, the Israeli police closed the mount to Jewish visitors, citing security concerns.

Holiest Jewish site, Islamic claims

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. Muslims claim it is their third holiest site, although their stake has changed several times throughout history.

The First Temple was built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70. Each temple stood for a period of about four centuries.

According to the Talmud, the world was created from the foundation stone of the Temple Mount. It’s believed to be the biblical Mount Moriah, where Abraham fulfilled God’s test of his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The Temple Mount has remained a focal point for Jewish services for thousands of years. Prayers for a return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple have been uttered by Jews since the Second Temple was destroyed, according to Jewish tradition.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque was constructed in about A.D. 709 to serve as a shrine near another shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which was built by an Islamic caliph. Al-Aqsa was meant to mark what Muslims came to believe was the place at which Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended to heaven to receive revelations from Allah.

Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Quran. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible 656 times.

Islamic tradition states Muhammad took a journey in a single night on a horse from “a sacred mosque” – believed to be in Mecca in southern Saudi Arabia – to “the farthest mosque.” From a rock there, according to the tradition, he ascended to heaven. The farthest mosque became associated with Jerusalem about 120 years ago.

According to research by Israeli author Shmuel Berkovits, Islam historically disregarded Jerusalem as being holy. Berkovits points out in his book “How Dreadful Is This Place!” that Muhammad was said to loathe Jerusalem and what it stood for. He wrote that Muhammad made a point of eliminating pagan sites of worship and sanctifying only one place – the Kaaba in Mecca – to signify there is only one deity.

As late as the 14th century, Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, whose writings influenced the Wahhabi movement in Arabia, ruled that sacred Islamic sites are to be found only in the Arabian Peninsula and that “in Jerusalem, there is not a place one calls sacred, and the same holds true for the tombs of Hebron.”

A guide to the Temple Mount by the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem published in 1925 listed it as Jewish and as the site of Solomon’s temple. The Temple Institute acquired a copy of the official 1925 “Guide Book to Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” which states on page 4: “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David ‘built there an altar unto the Lord.’”

No-prayer zone

The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their Intifada, or “uprising,” by throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after Ariel Sharon, who at the time was a candidate for prime minister, visited the area.

After the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Temple Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians.

The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003. It’s been open to non-Muslims only during certain hours and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Waqf.

During “open” days, Jews and Christians are allowed to ascend the mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which include demands that they not pray or bring any “holy objects” to the site. Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Waqf permission. Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any violation of their guidelines.

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