Israel suspends actions that led to closure of Christian holy site; Jordan follows up

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Pilgrims pray outside the closed gate of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on February 27, 2018

Israel suspends actions that led to closure of Christian holy site; Jordan follows up


Israel on Tuesday, February 27, suspended tax measures and other actions that led to the rare closure of the church, which is the holiest site in Christianity, shut down all week in protest.

Christian leaders who have kept Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed since Sunday were yet to respond to the decision and it was not clear whether it would reopen imminently.

The closure has left thousands of pilgrims and tourists seeking to visit the site locked outside, with some kneeling in front of its large wooden doors to pray in Jerusalem's Old City.

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the church on Tuesday afternoon in support of Christian leaders.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said a "professional team" would be appointed to come up with a solution to tax measures imposed by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem firmly opposed by Christian leaders.

"As a result, the Jerusalem municipality is suspending the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks," the statement said.

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 are in part 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 the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and all other churches are exempt, with the changes only affecting establishments like "hotels, halls and businesses" owned by the churches.

Christian leaders say the measure jeopardises their ability to conduct their work, which also includes social services to those in need.

Gov't following up on Israel's suspension of church tax, says minister

In another development, Jordan's Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani has said that the government is closely following the Israeli government's decision to suspend recent plans to collect taxes from Christian denominations in Jerusalem "The government will also follow up on the work of an ad hoc team that Israel has formed to find solutions to this issue," Momani said in a statement.

The minister added that Jordan has made contacts on several levels to deal with this matter and defend Jerusalem's churches against the unfair and illegal Israeli actions.

He underlined that East Jerusalem is part of occupied territories in 1967, which fall only under international and humanitarian laws.

Momani said Israel, as an occupying power in East Jerusalem, must fulfill its responsibilities in this regard, first and foremost of which is to preserve the historical and legal status quo in the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 17:50
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