13 December 2010
A group of Islamists staged a rally at the tomb of Biblical Queen Esther, one of the most revered sites for Jews in Iran, and threatened to destroy it if Israel damages the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. An Iranian news agency identified the demonstrators as members of a hardline Islamist militia. "Muslims beware that they have started the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque while their second sacred site in Iran, the Esther and Mordechai tomb, is at peace and no Muslims make a sound," the protesters said in a statement, adding: “We warn Zionist regime leaders if they assault the Al-Aqsa Mosque in any way we will destroy the tomb of these lowly murderers," they said.
The shrine in Hamedan (pictured above) commemorates Esther, a young Jewish woman who married Achaemenid King Xerxes five centuries BCE and convinced him to allow Jews to settle freely in what was then the Persian empire. Iran has the largest Jewish community in the Middle East, estimated at 20,000 to 25,000, after Israel, and the shrine is visited by many pilgrims every year.
Iran also houses in the western town of Shush the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, who according to biblical tradition survived the lions' den. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and its hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Several construction and archaeological projects around Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, have raised charges from the Muslim world that Israel was endangering the site. Construction or renovation projects in and around the Old City are deeply controversial and have often sparked violence in Jerusalem in the past.
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