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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 11:54 GMT
Work starts near Jerusalem shrine
The work focuses on an ancient mount near a temporary walkway
Work has begun to repair an ancient mound near Jerusalem's holiest site, raising tensions between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Israeli authorities say the work is needed to restore a walkway leading to the al-Aqsa Mosque or Temple Mount compound in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian leaders say it threatens Islamic archaeological remains.

In 1996, work to open a tunnel alongside the compound sparked clashes in which 80 people died.

And in 2000, the Palestinian uprising began at the mosque following a controversial tour of the site by Israel's then opposition leader Ariel Sharon.

Israeli police are deployed throughout East Jerusalem's mainly-Arab Old City area and are blocking access to the compound to non-Muslims and Palestinians under 45.

A senior Muslim cleric urged Palestinians to rush to the compound to protest against the work at the so-called Dung Gate walkway.

Echoing that call, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of the Hamas-led government called for Palestinian unity amid factional fighting between Hamas and its rival Fatah.

Large protests have not materialised yet and there are no reports of unrest.

Revered site

The Islamic authorities in charge of the compound say two underground rooms lie under the mound which is due for levelling.

SACRED TO JEWS: Site of first and second Temples and the rock on which Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice. As the visible remnant of the Temple, the Western Wall is the holiest site in Judaism
SACRED TO MUSLIMS: First direction of prayer for Muslims, site of Prophet Muhammad's ascent into, home to al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock

The centuries-old walkway partially collapsed in 2004. The current work is intended to secure the area and protect archaeological artefacts that have not been uncovered, Israeli officials say.

The Haram al-Sharif compound is the third holiest site in Islam, believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad made an ascent to heaven into the presence of God.

Jews believe the Temple Mount is where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. It is also the site to the First and Second Temples. The Western Wall of the mount is the holiest site in Judaism.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Since then, the compound has remained under Muslim jurisdiction in conjunction with neighbouring Jordan.

On Sunday, Jordan's King Abdullah warned against "any attack on Islamic sites" and condemned Israeli attempts "seeking to change the nature of these sites and erase their Muslim character".

Holy sites plan

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