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Non-Muslims Banned From Visiting Jerusalem's Temple Mount - 2003-07-31

Israel has reimposed a ban on non-Muslims visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive religious shrines in the Middle East. The move followed fears that the site could become a flashpoint for renewed violence in the region.

The Israeli police decision to reinstate a ban on visits by Jews and Christians appears to be aimed at quelling anger within the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian leadership expressed strong opposition to Israel's decision in early July to ease restrictions against visits by non-Muslims to the Temple Mount.

Those restrictions had been in place since the outbreak of violence at the site in September of 2000.

Riots broke out at the shrine following a visit by then Israeli opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, who is now the Prime Minister.

Mr. Sharon said he wanted to demonstrate that Israelis should have free access to the site, where the Jewish Holy Temples stood in biblical times.

For centuries, the area has also been sacred to Muslims, who built the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques there, making the compound the third holiest site in Islam.

Israel's Deputy Industry and Trade Minister, Michael Ratzon, says the site should not be restricted to Muslims only.

He says that, if the site is not re-opened to Jews and Christians then he and other right-wing members of parliament will attempt to overturn the ban by arranging their own private visits to the site.

The decision also angered visiting national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, who was forced to cancel his planned tour of the shrine.

He said it was both sad and offensive that Palestinians continue to fuel the myth that the Jewish people have no historical connection to sites that have been part of the cradle of their faith.