Faithful return to Jerusalem holy site as Christian protest ends

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Faithful return to Jerusalem holy site as Christian protest ends

The Jordan Times

Tourists and pilgrims have returned to the Jerusalem church built at the site many see as the holiest in Christianity on Wednesday as it reopened following a rare three-day closure in protest at Israeli measures.

The two men who act as keepers of the key of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre unlocked its large wooden doors at around 4:00am, ending the protest that began Sunday at noon and kept thousands of would-be visitors out.

Shortly afterwards, a group of pilgrims emerged from the still darkened corridors of Jerusalem's Old City to visit the sacred site.

"We prayed in front of the doors every day since Sunday," said Francois-Roch Ferlet, a 29-year-old visiting with a group of 50 people from France, standing near the ornate shrine encasing the traditional site of Jesus' tomb inside the church. They were due to leave later on Wednesday and were relieved they were able to visit. Large crowds of tourists and pilgrims filed into the church throughout the morning.

The church is built where Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected. Custody of it is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations.

Christian leaders decided to reopen the church after Israel on Tuesday suspended tax measures they oppose. A proposed law that would allow Israel to expropriate land sold by the church has also been shelved.

Israel's government will appoint a team to come up with a solution to the tax measures imposed by authorities in Jerusalem.

"We don't like to use the term victory because nothing is over yet," Farid Jubran, legal adviser for the Catholic custodian of sites in the Holy Land, told AFP.

“The prime minister declared he still wants to negotiate. It’s a very good step... and they realised you cannot talk to the churches with threats.”

‘Dark period’

Christian leaders are angry over attempts by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem to enforce tax collection on church property they consider commercial, saying exemptions only apply to places of worship or religious teaching.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat says the city is due 650 million shekels [$186 million/152 million euros] in uncollected taxes on church properties.

He stresses churches themselves are exempt, with the changes only affecting establishments like “hotels, halls and businesses” owned by them.

Christian leaders say the measure jeopardises social services they provide to those in need, while arguing that hostels and cafes they run for pilgrims do not operate as normal for-profit businesses.

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:48
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