The area of the Old City in East Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount to Jews and al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary, to Muslims is deeply sacred to both religions, making it a potential flashpoint in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The site is home to the gilded 7th-century Dome of the Rock, built in 691 AD over the spot where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven after his Night Journey as mentioned in the Quran.

In 705 AD, the al-Aqsa mosque was constructed adjacent to the Dome of the Rock; both structures are considered part of the Noble Sanctuary, which Muslims believe is the third holiest site after the cities of Mecca and Medina in modern Saudi Arabia.

The al-Aqsa mosque also stands on the stone esplanade, about the size of a large city square. Judaism's Western Wall, a Jewish prayer site believed to be a perimeter wall of the second biblical Temple, sits just below.

In Jewish tradition, the Temple Mount is the most sacred site in Judaism. Jews believe the biblical King Solomon built the first temple there 3,000 years ago. A second temple was razed by the Romans in AD 70.

The Temple Mount is sometimes also called Mount Mariah, the area where many Judaic kings were crowned.

Sacred site

The area of the Temple Mount and Noble Sanctuary is considered holy to all three monotheistic faiths because it is also believed to be where Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son.

Muslims say it was Abraham's son Ismael who was to be sacrificed; Jews and Christians hold that it was Isaac who Abraham intended to sacrifice.

Christians also believe that Jesus Christ taught at the temple during the Roman period and drove out money-changers.

Israel captured the site in the 1967 Six Day war and annexed it with the rest of East Jerusalem and adjoining parts of the West Bank in a move not recognised internationally.

The al-Aqsa compound is administered by an Islamic trust known as the Waqf. Jordan's king also has a role in maintaining the site.

Many, but not all, Jews believe they are forbidden by ritual law from visiting the Temple Mount out of fear they might tread on sacred ground where the faithful believe the Holy of Holies, which enshrined the Ark of the Covenant (said to contain the Ten Commandments), once stood.

The second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, erupted in 2000 after Ariel Sharon, the then-Israeli opposition leader and later prime minister, attempted to visit the Noble Sanctuary with a large number of police and bodyguards.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies