JERUSALEM – Jewish extremists plan to take over a hotly disputed holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem in an attempt to sabotage Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank in the summer, an Israeli TV station reported Wednesday.
Channel Two TV showed video of a meeting of extremists, including rabbis, where they discussed flooding the site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount (search) and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary (search) — with Jews, drawing the army and police, apparently to prevent them from evacuating settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank.
The report said such a move might ignite violence throughout the Middle East. The site is the most hotly contested in the region — where the Al Aqsa Mosque (search), marking the site where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, is built atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples.
"We must bring 100,000 people to the Temple Mount," said a rabbi identified as Chen Eliahu in video of the meeting, which Channel Two said took place in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Then, he said, the army and police would be forced to abandon plans to remove settlers from Gaza and the West Bank in order to send soldiers and police to the holy site.
Others seen addressing the meeting were well-known extremist rabbis Yisrael Ariel and Yosef Elboim.
"If the government sees that there are more Jews than Muslims on the Temple Mount," Elboim said, it will be forced to recognize the reality that it cannot carry out the evacuation of Jewish settlements.
The report did not say when the meeting took place. The TV reporter said 30 Jewish groups are cooperating in the takeover plan and intend a "dry run" in three weeks, at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Nissan, when they will try to get as many Jews onto the site as possible.
Israel captured the site along with the rest of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, but because of the sensitivity of the hilltop, Israel turned daily control of the site over to the Supreme Muslim Council, or Wakf.
Most rabbis forbid Jews from entering the site because of ritual purity issues. Also, Israeli security banned Jews from visiting during most of the current four-year conflict with the Palestinians. In recent months,small groups of Jews have been permitted to tour the site in recent months.
It was unclear how the extremists planned to get large numbers of Jews into the site, since it is located in the middle of the walled Old City, and access is through heavily guarded gates.
Under the pullout plan, Israel intends to dismantle all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank this summer, the first time Israel would remove veteran settlements from those territories.
Settlers are opposed to the pullout. Extremists have been blocking highway intersections and threatening violence, and Israeli security has warned of attempts to assassinate Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Police have warned of attempts to attack the Jerusalem site as a way of sabotaging the pullout, including the possibility of extremists firing a rocket at the mosque, which is clearly visible from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.