Factbox: Jerusalem, focus of faith, conflict
(Reuters) - As Christians and Jews around the world turn next week toward Jerusalem as the focus of their Easter and Passover festivals, the city, also revered by Muslims, is once again at the center of heated argument over Middle East peace.
Following are facts on the city and its significance to the three great monotheistic religions that sprang from the region:
Sitting on a rocky promontory, watered by springs, some 760 meters (2,500 feet) up in the hills between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, Jerusalem has been settled for 5,000 years.
Much of its religious significance stems from a Jewish belief that a spot now covered by the landmark golden Dome of the Rock is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son to God as a mark of his faith, before an angel stayed his hand.
Later, Christians and Muslims wove these and other ideas stemming from Jerusalem into their own faiths.
Destroyed as a Jewish capital by the Romans in the 1st century AD, it was a Christian city under their Byzantine successors before falling to Muslim Arabs in the 7th. European Crusaders took it back for a century before 700 years of Muslim control until Britain defeated the Ottoman Turks in 1917.
As Britain prepared to quit, the United Nations proposed international rule for the city in 1947 as a "corpus separatum." That proposal was overtaken by fighting that left Israel holding West Jerusalem in 1948 and Jordanian forces in East Jerusalem. Israel then took the rest in the Six Day War of 1967.
The city, within boundaries defined by Israel but not recognized internationally, is now home to 750,000 people, two in three of them Jews and the rest mostly Muslim Palestinians.
JEWS AND JERUSALEM
Jews, from biblical kings such as Solomon to present day Israelis, see Jerusalem as both the center of their religion and as a national capital. Solomon is believed to have built a great temple on the rock about 960 BC that became a focus of religious sacrifice and commerce. Destroyed by Babylonians four centuries later, it was replaced by the Second Temple.
That was in turn destroyed by Roman forces in 70 AD, part of events which left Jews largely in exile across Europe and the Middle East. It is a part of what is believed to be the ruined retaining wall of that Roman-era Temple Mount complex, the Western Wall, that is now the main focus of Jewish prayer.
The Temple has been the focus of Jewish longing for two millennia of wandering exile. On Monday evening, March 29, as every year at the Passover seder dinner, Jews round the world will toast "Next year in Jerusalem!."
After Israeli forces captured Arab East Jerusalem, including the Old City with its sacred sites, from Jordan in 1967, Israel annexed it and declared all of the city its "eternal and indivisible capital" -- a move not recognized internationally. Most foreign embassies to Israel are in Tel Aviv on the coast.
CHRISTIANS AND JERUSALEM
For Christians, Jerusalem is primarily the site of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. A Jew, born in nearby Bethlehem, Jesus preached around King Herod's Temple.
Seen by his Jewish disciples as the Messiah of prophecy, sent by God to save mankind, the story of Jesus's crucifixion by the Romans and then resurrection at Calvary is the focus of annual Easter rituals. For both eastern and western churches, Holy Week this year climaxes with Easter on Sunday, April 4.
Easter processions move from the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the resurrection.
When the Roman Empire became Christian, so did Jerusalem, until the expansion of Arab Islam in the 7th century. Europeans established a Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Crusades from the 11th to 13th centuries, before Muslim rule returned.
It ended only with British defeat of the Ottoman Turks in 1917. Control of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, as well as the loyalties of some 150,000 Christian Arabs in Israel and the Palestinian territories, are shared among various denominations, notably Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
MUSLIMS AND JERUSALEM
Muslims also venerate the rock under the Dome, as the spot from which they believe Mohammad ascended to heaven on his Night Journey.
Today the focal outcrop is covered by the Dome of the Rock, originally built in 691 AD. It is part of a compound -- the Temple Mount to Jews and to Muslims called al-Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary -- which also contains al-Aqsa mosque.
The site is the third holiest in Islam after the cities of Mecca and Medina. When British rule ended in 1948, Jordanian forces occupied the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem. The King of Jordan retains a role in ensuring the upkeep of the Muslim holy places, even though Israel captured the city in 1967.
Most Palestinians are Sunni Muslims, including the 240,000 who live inside Israel's Jerusalem boundaries, but many complain Israeli security denies them free access to al-Aqsa compound.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Samia Nakhoul)
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