Fire breaks out at Al-Aqsa mosque around the same time as Notre Dame Cathedral blaze

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France’s iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was not the only holy site that caught fire Monday. While a massive blaze was ravaging the Cathedral, a fire also broke out at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam. The fire endangered a part of the worship site while not causing significant damage, according to reports.

“The fire broke out in the guard’s room outside the roof of the Marwani Prayer Room,” Palestinian news agency WAFA said, noting that the “fire brigade of the Islamic Waqf handled the matter successfully.”

It said the fire was caused by youths playing with fire, without providing further details. Responding to the incident, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas underscored the need to preserve the compound’s “great religious and humanitarian value.” Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered to be the third-holiest place by Muslims, after Mecca and Medina. Muslims believe that the first qiblah, the direction which Muslims turn to during their daily prayers, was Al-Aqsa until it was changed to Mecca.

Moreover, the existence of the Qubbat-us Sahra within the compound makes it more special as it is believed that the Prophet Muhammad started his spiritual journey to the heavens (miraj) from that place. Since Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967 the conflict has continued between Palestinians and Israelis, as the latter believe that the holy temple of Solomon is beneath the mosque. There are several rumors claiming that Israelis were digging canals to reach the temple’s ruins.

Al Aqsa mosque is considered the third holiest site in Islam. The Palestine News Agency, which is the official outlet of the Palestine National Authority, said the fire broke out in a guard’s room outside the roof of the Marwani Prayer Room. The fire was doused by Islamic Waqf’s fire brigade, according to Russia Today.

Video clips posted on social media showed smoke rising from the top of the Marwani Prayer Room which is also known as Solomon’s Stables. The mosque is located on top of the Temple Mount and is considered the third holiest site in Islam. It has been at the centre of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

The cause of the fire is not known yet. Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, director general of the Jerusalem Waqf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Department, suggested that the fire could have been started by children who were seen playing in the area.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned against targeting the holy site. He called for preserving the compound’s “great religious and humanitarian value.”

A massive fire engulfed the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, on Monday. The cathedral’s spire collapsed under the fire, which raged for hours. The blaze also spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers. The fire was brought under control on Tuesday morning.

The mosque compound is located in the Old City section of East Jerusalem, which Israel seized from Jordan in 1967. Israel annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move, but Jordan’s monarchy was granted custodial rights over the Islamic holy sites, according to Newsweek.

In 2017, United States President Donald Trump formally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, calling it “a long overdue step to advance the peace process”. Israel called the decision “historic”, even as several countries and the United Nations, the European Union and the Vatican, criticised the move.

The United Nations Security Council later voted against the United States’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.