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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 10/98: Middle East  
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Middle East Monday, 19 October, 1998, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Holy city creates unholy passions
Map of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is one of the most fought over cities in the world.

At various points in its history, Jerusalem has been under the control of Jews, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Crusaders, Arabs and the British.

The city is of immense religious significance. It contains sites holy to all three great monotheistic faiths - Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The old city contains the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, and the Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, venerated by Muslims.

In 1949, Israel took control of the western part of the city, and in 1967 captured East Jerusalem and the old city from Jordan.

Israeli governments of all hues have sought to consolidate their grip on the city, maintaining that it is Israel's "eternal and undivided capital."

The Israeli argument is that the Jews have never had any other capital. Since Jerusalem is the site of the First Temple and was the capital chosen by King David 3,000 years ago, it occupies a pivotal place in Jewish identity.

The Palestinians believe the city should be under joint sovereignty. They regard Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and as a pivotal part of the West Bank, although that is not something that Israel is ready to concede.

The city's potential as a major flashpoint was starkly illustrated in September 1996. The Israeli government ordered the opening of a new entrance to a tunnel near the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque in the old city of Jerusalem.

The move sparked Palestinian outrage, and condemnation from Israel's Arab neighbours. Anti-Israeli demonstrations in the West Bank turned violent, leaving 80 people dead.

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


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