The Messiah, the Millennium and the Temple Mount

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Jerusalem cops had better be stocking up on Maalox, because the cityís historic Temple Mount is shaping up as a flashpoint of, well, biblical proportions. Three right-wing Jewish militants were arrested Thursday after distributing leaflets urging Jews to expel Muslims from the hill, which is also home to Islamís third holiest site, the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Jewish extremists ó who want the Islamic sites razed in order to rebuild the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 in the belief that it will hasten the Messianic era ó were egged on by a handful of American evangelical Christians, some of whom believe the rebuilding of the temple will hasten the Second Coming. But the Israeli authorities are well aware that any tampering with Islamic holy sites in the city could spark the final jihad against Israel ó hence the arrests. "The upside of Jerusalem is that every square foot of the city is holy, for more than one religious tradition," says TIME religion correspondent David Van Biema. "Unfortunately, thatís also its downside."

Three years ago, Israelís opening of a tunnel entrance near Muslim and Jewish holy sites sparked fierce confrontations throughout the West Bank, in which 50 Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed. Last January, Israeli police deported members of a Denver-based Christian group who had allegedly been planning to provoke violence in Jerusalem so as to instigate a war between Jews and Arabs that they believed would precede the Second Coming. "Many Christians take the millennium as a signpost for the Second Coming, and thatís increased the immediate tension over the Temple Mount," says Van Biema. "The Israeli authorities are justifiably worried."