Gilded dome asserts Islam's claim to Holy sites: King Hussein's financing of restoration work is sending a message to the Israelis and the Arabs, writes Sarah Helm in Jerusalem

HIGH above Islam's third holiest shrine an Irish workman hoisted up a sheet of gold-plated metal, ready to gild another grey square in the giant patchwork dome that dominates Jerusalem's skyline. In the laboratories down below, a crescent moon was taken away by men in white coats, to be plated with gold before being raised 40 feet to top the Dome of the Rock, on the Haram al- Sharif, 'The Noble Sanctuary'.

After two years, restoration work on Jerusalem's most famous landmark is near completion. The pounds 4.4m bill is being paid by King Hussein of Jordan, who hired a Northern Irish company, Mivan - whose last job was Euro-Disney - to do the work.

The 1,200sq metre expanse, previously covered with leaky aluminium, is to be the biggest gilded dome in the world. In a city where, above any other, symbols connote power, the significance of the project is immense.

At a crucial moment in the Middle East peace talks, King Hussein - who, as a descendant of the prophet Mohamed, claims custodianship of Jerusalem's Muslim Holy Sites - is sending a message to Israel. The gilded dome is a reassertion of Islam's claim to Jerusalem's Holy Sites.

East Jerusalem, including the Holy Sites of the Old City - sites holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews - has been under Israeli occupation since Israel seized the Arab sector of the city from Jordanian control in the 1967 war. Israel says the whole city - East and West - will remain forever Israel's 'unified capital'.

No Arab country, however, can accept Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem and the Holy Sites.

A focus of bloody struggle so often before, the Haram al-Sharif, also site of the al-Aqsa Mosque, is certain to be the main battleground for future political and religious claims to the city. The Haram, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, sits on a spot venerated by them as the original site of The Temple.

But now, the question of whether the Palestine Liberation Organisation would seek to take over the King's custodianship of the sites is on everyone's mind. Since the peace talks, the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, has cast an acquisitive eye over the Haram, indicating he would like the keys to the Holy Sites to return from Amman to Arab Jerusalem.

Guardianship of the sites gives significant power. King Hussein oversees not only the Haram al-Sharif, but 850 mosques, and numerous religious institutions, as well as large chunks of land, in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

King Hussein never relinquished his custodial role of the Holy Sites through the Ministry of Religious Endowments (Awkaf). The Hashemites have never recovered from the humiliation of being evicted from Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, by the Saudis in 1927.

King Hussein was spurred into action after King Fahd of Saudi Arabia made a bid to pay for the restoration. The Hashemite monarch sold a house in London to raise money for the work.

Mr Arafat has hinted he would like to pray at the Haram al-Sharif when he returns to the West Bank in the spring, by which time the King's new dome will be shining in all its glory. If the PLO chairman does visit the site, he is certain to use such an occasion to stake his territorial claim.

TABA - Israeli and PLO negotiators reportedly agreed yesterday on key points blocking implementation of their autonomy accord, but then became mired in differences over the extent of Israeli withdrawal from Jericho, AP reports.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living