While flames were engulfing the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Monday night, a pillar of smoke was spotted on the Temple Mount. Though the Jerusalem fire was quickly extinguished, it was misreported in the media.
A small fire was reported on the rooftop of a guard station outside of the Marwani prayer room in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount.
Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, director general of the Jerusalem Waqf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Department, suggested that the fire was set by small Arab children. The fire was reportedly extinguished in under ten minutes. Other than the loss of the guard booth, no damage was reported.
Responding to the incident, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned anyone against targeting the holy site, emphasizing the need to preserve the compound’s “great religious and humanitarian value.”
The underground space is referred to as Solomon’s Stables since it was used by the Crusaders a stable for the cavalry. It is a space some 600 square yards in size 41 feet below the Temple Mount courtyard. In the mid-1990s, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, called for the construction of a synagogue at the site. In response, the Waqf began construction in 1996, without a permit and in gross violation of the status quo agreement signed two years earlier in which Israel granted custodianship to Jordan. The builders used heavy equipment to clear the site, destroying artifacts of immense archaeological importance and damaging the structural integrity of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. It is now a dedicated Muslim prayer site referred to as the Marwani Mosque though it is rarely used as such.
The incident is being misreported in many media as having occurred in “al Aqsa.” Al Aqsa is, in fact, the silver-domed Mosque in the southern area of the Temple Mount. The gold dome covers the Dome of the Rock, a shrine that was built at the end of the 7th Century in the precise location where the Jewish Temples once stood. Referred to as Qubbat al-Sakhrah in Arabic, it is not a Mosque.
When the IDF unified Jerusalem and conquered the Temple Mount in the 1967 Six-Day War, al Aqsa was the only mosque at the site. The Muslims broke into Sha’ar Rachamim in late February, an area that was closed 16 years ago by court order after it was used as a meeting place for Hamas-related organizations. They declared it to be a mosque in contravention of the status quo agreements with the Israeli government.
The Temple Mount has been referred to as the third holiest site in Islam. Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran. The sanctity of Jerusalem is not universally accepted in Islamic theology and many Islamic scholars believe it is based on a misreading of the text referring to “the distant Mosque”.