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Jerusalem Tense as Arab Leaders Visit Disputed Holy Site

By Robert Berger
07 October 2009

Tension remains high between Jews and Muslims at a disputed Jerusalem holy place after several days of unrest that have overshadowed a Jewish festival of pilgrimage.

Israeli Arab leaders visited the Mosque of Al Aksa in Jerusalem's Old City and blamed Israel for provoking recent clashes between police and Palestinians. The confrontations are occurring during the week-long holiday of Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles, when thousands of Jewish and Christian pilgrims have been visiting Jerusalem.

The unrest was sparked by rumors that Jewish militants planned to pray at the Al Aksa compound, the third holiest place in Islam. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, the site of the two biblical Temples and holiest place of all. Israel has closed the site to Muslim worshippers for several days, in an attempt to contain the unrest.

Israeli Arab parliamentarian Taleb al-Sana said Israel is denying Muslims freedom of worship by closing down the Mosque of Al Aksa.

Repeating a rumor that has spread in recent days, Al-Sana accused Israel of conducting secret excavations under the mosque, provoking Muslim fears of a Jewish takeover of the Islamic holy place.

Jewish officials say Arab and Palestinian leaders are deliberately inciting violence during the Feast of Tabernacles. Elisha Peleg is a member of the Jerusalem City Council.

"It is well organized," Peleg alleges. "They know when to increase the riots and where to make the riots; and unfortunately, our neighbors do not like to see us very much celebrating and praying to our God."

The Arabs have warned that Israel is provoking a third Palestinian uprising. But Israel has deployed thousands of police and soldiers in and around Jerusalem's Old City, in an effort to prevent the spread of violence.

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