Five members of Israel's parliament complained that they were threatened and manhandled by a group of Arabs today while they were investigating reports of illegal construction at the ancient Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City.
Nobody was injured in the scuffle, which witnesses said involved more rhetoric than physical contact. But the incident underscored the sensitive nature of Mount Moriah, revered by Jews and Moslems alike. Moslems call the mount Haram Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.
Police were called to escort the Knesset (parliament) members safely out of the Old City after a loudspeaker on the Al Aqsa Mosque signaled the alarm, "The Jews are on the Haram Sharif!" and a large crowd of angry Arabs began gathering, according to one member of the Knesset Interior Committee. Jacques Amir of the Labor Party told the Knesset that he and his colleagues were surrounded and jostled after members of the Waqf -- or Moslem Supreme Council -- tried to prevent official Knesset photographers from photographing the delegation. Photographs are forbidden inside the holy sites of Haram Sharif.
Some Arabs in the crowd made threatening gestures and shouted insults at the Knesset members, according to officials in the delegation.
Two members of the Interior Committee, both members of the right-wing Tehiya (Renaissance) Party, said they would introduce a parliamentary bill giving Jews more control over the Temple Mount, which today bears only Moslem buildings and is controlled mainly by the Waqf.
Haram Sharif is regarded by Moslems as the third holiest shrine of Islam -- after Mecca and Medina -- from which the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended to Heaven. For Jews, the site is the most hallowed sanctuary where the two Great Temples stood.
Because of rising tensions in the Old City, Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel ordered the committee members not to return to the Temple Mount today.
Eyewitnesses said the trouble began when the Knesset members tried to tour Solomon's Stables under the Al Aqsa Mosque with an official photographer. Waqf officials tried to prevent them and tempers flared as a shouting match broke out, according to one member of the delegation.
Committee officials said the members had gone to the site to investigate allegations by an ultra-orthodox group that Moslems had erected illegal structures, including a monument to Palestinian refugees killed in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila camps in 1982. A spokesman for Jerusalem's city government denied tonight that any illegal structures had been built at the mount, and said no such monument existed.