JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has spurned a call to consider halting excavation work near Jerusalem’s most sensitive shrine.
Israel said the search for ancient artifacts beneath the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), and to Jews as the Temple Mount, would not harm the sacred site in the walled Old City.
Here are some facts about the perennial flashpoint holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians:
* It is the most sacred site in Judaism. Jews believe biblical King Solomon built the first temple there 3,000 years ago. A second temple was razed by the Romans in AD 70.
* Many Muslims see it as the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. They believe the Prophet Mohammad ascended into heaven from the spot during a night journey to Jerusalem.
* Christians believe Jesus taught at the Temple and that he drove out money-changers who were profiting from pilgrims.
* It is home to al-Aqsa mosque and the gilded Dome of the Rock. The Western Wall is a Jewish prayer site believed to be a perimeter wall of the Temple complex.
* Israel captured the site in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it with the rest of East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally.
* Muslim areas are administrated by an Islamic trust known as the Waqf.
* Al-Aqsa mosque was badly damaged in a fire started by an Australian Christian tourist in 1969. He believed it was necessary to prepare the way for the Messiah.
* In 1982, an Israeli soldier went on a shooting rampage on the compound, killing two Arabs.
* In 1984, Israel uncovered a plot by a group of Jews to blow up al-Aqsa mosque so that a new temple could be built.
* In 1990 Israeli police killed 18 Palestinians and wounded 150 others when thousands of Palestinians threw stones at Jewish worshippers and attacked two policemen on the Temple Mount.
* Israel’s opening of an archaeological tunnel near the site where the biblical Jewish Temples once stood, sparked Palestinian anger in 1996. Sixty-one Arabs and 15 Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes.
* A Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000 after then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound.