JERUSALEM, Aug 8 (AFP) - While Jews mourn the destruction of their Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D., Jewish extremists are planning to rebuild the structure on its former site where Islam's third holiest shrine now stands.
The incense, prayers and vines for sacred wine are ready for the "messianic era, when peace will reign throughout the earth," said activist and lawyer Baruch Ben Yossef, who works in a chic neighborhood just outside Jerusalem.
According to Jewish tradition, rebuilding the Temple will hasten the coming of the messiah.
But before they can achieve universal peace, the extremist faithful are prepared for a final battle because reconstruction of the Temple would mean the destruction of the 1,300-year -old Al-Aqsa mosque complex.
The Moslems built on the Temple ruins the complex which includes the Dome of the Rock, the place from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven in the seventh century, according to Moslem tradition.
"It's like an army. We must train to be ready when war breaks out," Ben Yossef said.
"The first stage is to pray en masse in the complex, then to demand the building of the Temple," he said.
Ben Yossef told AFP he organizes an annual meeting of the "builders of the Third Temple" in Israel which more than a thousand people attend. "Seven years ago, there were only 30 of us," he said.
A huge golden chandelier has already been made in the United States and future high priests are able to train for animal sacrifices on a "simulation" altar near the Dead Sea.
"An architect has even drawn up a plan for Jerusalem involving new parking lots for the millions of pilgrims who will come for the Passover sacrifices," Ben Yossef said.
The extremists have come into conflict with the Moslem authorities who manage the mosque complex, the Israeli chief rabbinate, whose position is that Jews may not pray there, and the Israeli police, who have formally banned them from the site.
The rabbinate has launched a campaign against Jewish prayer at the site ahead of Tisha B'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calender which commemorates the Second Temple's destruction and falls on Tuesday.
"It is forbidden to ascend the Temple Mount because of the risk of desecration" of the Second Temple's holy of holies, where the ark was kept, a statement from the chief rabbinate said.
A Jewish extremist, Yitzhak Yallouz, said: "The leaders are afraid of the international community's reaction. They don't dare to tell the world that the site is ours."
Yallouz is buying stones cut in the Negev desert with donations and stockpiling them for use in the Temple's reconstruction.
The former graphic designer from Paris firmly believes in the "miracle" of the Third Temple.
"God will provide the finishing touches. When I am involved with the stones, I feel that something is moving in heaven," he said, pointing to four flagstones stored in his trailer at the Kokhav Yaakov settlement in the West Bank.
He calculated that he will need six million such stones.
While waiting for the messiah, the extremists go to the complex along with tourists, and are regularly questioned by the police.
"I go there to show a Jewish presence. But incognito, with sunglasses and a hat," said Fievel Handler, a former hippie from the US state of Minnesota.
The Moslem authorities do not rule out the risk of confrontation over the holy site.
"I view the actions of these extremists with total seriousness," Hassan Tahbub, the minister of Moslem property or Waqf, told AFP.
"But I am sure that the government is wiser than they are and is not seeking to unleash a battle whose end no one can predict," he said.
Posted August 8, 1997
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