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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 12:39 GMT
Jerusalem 'bomb plot'
Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary
The holy site is at the core of the dispute
By Paul Wood in Jerusalem

A new hit film in Israel - Hahesder, or Time of Favour - is about a plot by ultra-religious Jews to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount.

Now there are warnings that some are preparing to turn fiction into fact.


This is the best place and the best point to destroy the peace process

Izar Beh, Keshev Centre
There has been an apocalyptic warning, from two former top security chiefs, that extreme Jewish groups may be plotting to destroy the mosque compound - known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif).

The two men, former heads of the security service Shin Bet and chief of police, claimed to have unearthed such a plot, and have warned Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

If the groups succeed, the pair warned, Israel would get the blame, and the result would be regional war.

"This is the best place and the best point to destroy the peace process, to stop peace negotiation and to kill any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians," said Izar Beh of the Keshev Centre, which monitors extreme religious and nationalist groups.

"To harm the mosque, it means a global war between the Arab world and the Islamic world against Israel, and no doubt that it could be a war that may bring destruction to the state of Israel."

New temple

There have been angry demonstrations in Jerusalem's old city as fears grow among religious Jews that Israel will surrender control of the holy sites as part of a settlement with the Palestinians.

Jewish protester detained by police
There have been several protests by Jewish groups
"Jerusalem, and certainly not the Temple Mount, are not even mentioned once in the Koran. Their connection is to Mecca and Medina," argued one protester.

Near the Wailing Wall, there have been sit-down protests by religious Jews.

They believe redemption will come only following Armageddon - the final battle of good against evil. But to bring this about, they must construct a new Jewish temple on the site of the mosques.

Professor Hilel Weiss, who is leading the effort to build a new temple, wants it done peacefully. He said the alleged plot to blow up the mosques was an invention of the security services.

But he blamed Mr Barak's government for forcing the issue.

"They have no feelings for sacred places and for the Mount of Temple, so they wanted to give the Mount of Temple to cure the Jews from their craziness," he said. "They've co-operated together with the Arabs to take the Mount Temple from the Jews."

High tension

Some people believe violence will have to be used and laws broken to build the new temple. A group of about 30 hardliners have already attempted to storm the Temple Mount. The police were caught by surprise and there were several vicious scuffles and a number of arrests.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak: Under pressure to get a deal
At the head of the charge was Yehuda Etzion who was jailed for five years in the 1980s for a plot to blow up the mosques. He said he would do the same again.

"It was right and it is still right," he said. "It will happen. It must happen.

"The mosques will not stay on the Temple Mount and the third temple will stand here, so ... I can say it is the wrong building in the wrong place.

"It will not exist."

He is even prepared to risk starting a war with the Arab world by removing the mosques.

"To [turn] our backs to the Temple Mount, to ignore it ... this is the dangerous thing and our enemies, the Muslims, will be the first to fill it and if we are so weak, they will hurt us more and more," he said.

Many protesters do no more than pray. Yehuda Etzion freely admitted he did not have enough support for the very big operation he calculates destroying the mosques would entail.

But he said one or two of his followers might still try. And that is the danger - that a small and futile attempt to damage the mosques might still be enough to inflame the Islamic world, with the cataclysmic effects predicted by the religious Jews trying to build the temple.

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See also:

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