Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are collectively known as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). Originally built in CE711 (AD711), al-Aqsa Mosque is Islam's third holiest place, after the two Holy Mosques in Saudi Arabia.

Hanegbi said in a TV interview at the weekend that the goal of the potential attackers would be to thwart the Israeli plan for unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

But a former leader of an armed Jewish group that sought to bomb al-Aqsa Mosque in the late 1970s, told Israeli state-run radio on Sunday the purpose of any "new action" would not have anything to do with the "disengagement plan".

The Israeli daily Haaretz on Sunday quoted officials in the domestic intelligence service, Shin Beth, as saying there was a possibility of Jewish hardliners trying to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque by crashing a radio-controlled plane into it.

Some Jewish groups want to see
a temple built at the mosque site

There are numerous Millenarian Jewish groups in Israel dedicated to the destruction of the mosque to facilitate the "rebuilding" of the "Third Temple" on the site.

Messianic Jews believe the destruction of the mosque and construction of the temple would expedite the appearance of a Jewish messiah, or redeemer, who would rule the world from Jerusalem and bring about the salvation of the Jewish people.

Ultimate red line

Muslim leaders in Palestine have warned of "unforeseeable consequences" and "horrible repercussions" all over the world in case "anything happened to al-Aqsa Mosque".

"This is the ultimate red line. If Jewish terrorists embarked on such an act of sheer madness, they would trigger huge fires all over the world … . Only God knows how the fires would be extinguished," said Kamal al-Khatib, deputy head of Israel's powerful Islamic Movement.

Speaking to Aljazeera.net he said an attack on al-Aqsa Mosque would be viewed as an appalling provocation by the world's Muslim population.

"If Jewish terrorists embarked on such an act of sheer madness, they would trigger huge fires all over the world"

Kamal al-Khatib,
Deputy head of Israel's Islamic Movement

"If such a thing happened, God forbid, it would galvanise the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, and there would be a backlash and anger all over the world."

Al-Khatib said the Islamic Movement in Israel remained vigilant against the risk of an attack on the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem.

"We send thousands of people to the Haram al-Sharif every day to make up for the barring by Israel of our people from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from accessing the mosque … and we see to it that there are no loopholes in security arrangements," he said.

Security pretext?

The highest-ranking Muslim cleric in East Jerusalem, Shaikh Ikrama Sabri, says Jewish extremists are capable of doing the unthinkable.

"We know quite well that they are conniving and coordinating their plans with the Israeli security establishment," he claimed.

"We also know that the Israeli state uses the extremists as a supplemental tool to achieve its thinly disguised goals, including the destruction of Islam's holy places in Jerusalem."

Clerics say Israel wants to gain a
foothold inside the compound

But in the present contest, Sabri cautioned, Israel may be trying to gain a "foothold" inside al-Haram al-Sharif compound under the pretext of "ensuring the security of the place".

He said after the 1994 Hebron massacre in which 29 Arab worshippers were killed by a messianic Jewish immigrant from Brooklyn, the Israeli army took over the town's historic Ibrahimi Mosque and assigned the bulk of the holy site to Jewish settlers.

The "arrangement" then was justified by the Israelis on security grounds – to prevent a repetition of the massacre, Sabri said.

He claimed the Israeli authorities knew the Jewish hardliners individually, but did not take action against them for political reasons.

"Look, the police know them one by one, but the extremists have strong allies and supporters within the government, the Knesset and the security establishment, so much so that it seems as if they are the real rulers of Israel," Sabri said.

Inspection tours?

The Israeli police currently permit religious Jews to enter al-Aqsa Mosque compound despite strong objection from the Supreme Muslim Council, which is in charge of the administration of the holy place.

Israeli officials, including security chiefs, say Jews have a right to visit the holy place they call Temple Mount just like anybody else.

However, Waqf officials, who are entrusted with the upkeep of the holy sanctuary, say trips by Jews are not simple visits, but in fact "inspection tours" aimed at drawing up destructive designs on al-Haram al-Sharif.

On Sunday, a Jewish rabbi allied with the messianic Gush Emunim movement which advocates the expulsion and extermination of non-Jews in Israel - told the Israeli army radio, Gali Tsahal, he fully supported the destruction of al-Aqsa Mosque.

About 5000 people can worship in
and around the historic mosque

"This is more than a positive thing - this is a desirable thing, and I am looking forward to seeing these mosques reduced to ruins," said Yehuda Tzion, who in 1980 headed the underground Jewish group that had planned to bomb al-Aqsa.

Tzion has urged the Israeli government to "send army bulldozers to the site and destroy these buildings once and for all … and if the state is not willing to do so, let other Jews do it".

One of the messianic Jewish groups that openly calls for the destruction of al-Aqsa is the Temple Mount Faithful, headed by Girshon Solomon.

A few years ago, he told Israeli television, with the golden Dome of the Rock in the background - that: "it is time this pagan edifice ceased to exist".