Why the Al-Aqsa Mosque is so important to Muslims and Jews – and the site of renewed violence

An Israeli police raid on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Wednesday sparked a furious response from Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and the wider Arab and Muslim world.

Israeli police have been filmed beating worshipers in raids that officials say were aimed at dislodging groups of young men who had barricaded themselves inside the mosque.

The incident – which occurred during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and this year coincides with the Passover holiday which began on Wednesday evening – prompted retaliatory rockets from the Islamist militant group Hamas from the Gaza Strip , to which the Israeli forces in turn responded. Airstrikes.

The international community, including Canada, appealed for calm in Al-Aqsa, but dozens more rockets from Lebanon were launched by Hamas on Thursday, Israel said, adding that most were intercepted.

Here’s a look at why Al-Aqsa is so important and why it has become a hot spot in a region where tensions are already simmering.

Where and what is Al-Aqsa Mosque?

The Al-Aqsa sits in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City on a hill known to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims around the world as al-Haram al -Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary.

Muslims consider the site the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Al-Aqsa is the name given to the entire complex and is home to two Muslim holy sites: the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also known as the Qibli Mosque, which was built in the 8th century AD.

An aerial view shows the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 22. (Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters)

The compound overlooks the Western Wall, a sacred place of prayer for Jews, for whom the Temple Mount is their holiest site. Jews believe that the biblical King Solomon built the first temple there 3,000 years ago. A second temple was razed by the Romans in AD 70.

Israel captured the site in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed it along with the rest of East Jerusalem and adjacent parts of the West Bank in an internationally unrecognized move.

Jordan, whose Hashemite ruling family has custody of Muslim and Christian sites, appoints members of the Waqf institution that oversees the site.

Why did it become a flashpoint?

The Al-Aqsa compound has long been a hotbed of deadly violence over issues of sovereignty and religion in Jerusalem.

Under the longstanding “status quo” arrangement governing the area, which Israel says it upholds, non-Muslims can visit but only Muslims are allowed to worship within the mosque grounds.

A group of people pray inside a mosque with their eyes closed.
People pray inside Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

Jewish visitors have increasingly prayed more or less openly at the site in defiance of the rules, and Israeli restrictions on access by Muslim worshipers to the site have led to protests and outbreaks of violence.

Clashes at the site in 2021 helped spark a 10-day war with Gaza.

In 2000, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, then leader of the opposition, led a group of Israeli lawmakers to the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif complex. The Palestinians protested and there were violent clashes which quickly escalated into the second Palestinian uprising, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Leave a Comment