The violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem this month reflect its significance as part of one of the most contested pieces of religious territory in the Holy Land.
Here are some basics on the mosque compound, from its importance over the centuries for three major religions to why it is such a flash point today.
What is the Aqsa Mosque?
World Heritage Site, meaning it is regarded as “being of outstanding international importance and therefore as deserving special protection.”
the Waqf, funded and controlled by Jordan, continued to administer the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, as it had done for decades, a special role reaffirmed in Israel’s 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.
Israeli security forces maintain a presence on the site and they coordinate with the Waqf. Jews and Christians are allowed to visit, but unlike Muslims, are prohibited from praying on the grounds under the status quo arrangement. (Jews pray just below the sacred plateau at the Western Wall, the remnants of a retaining wall that once surrounded the Temple Mount.)
Tensions over what critics call the arrangement’s discrimination against non-Muslims have periodically boiled over into violence.
Adding to the tensions is Israel’s annual celebration of Jerusalem Day, an official holiday to commemorate its capture of the entire city. The celebration, most recently held Monday, is a provocation for many Palestinians, including residents of the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state — a prospect that seems increasingly remote.
Does Israel want to take full control of the site?
Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have said they do not intend to change the status quo.
But some Israeli religious groups have long pressed for the right to pray at the site. In April, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry formally complained about large numbers of Jewish visitors to the site, calling it a violation of the status quo.