Christian leaders shut Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre church

Christian leaders shut Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre church

Christian leaders shut Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre church

Christian leaders on Sunday took the rare step of closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site of Jesus's burial in Jerusalem, in protest at Israeli tax measures and a proposed property law.

It was not immediately clear how long the closure of the church, announced by Christian officials at a news conference which began around noon, would last.

In the presence of Franciscan and Armenian religious leaders, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos read out a strongly-worded statement and then locked the ancient doors of the church in Jerusalem's Old City, believed by Christians to be the exact location of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

State Minister for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani expressed the Kingdom's rejection of the "systematic" measures by the Israeli authorities to alter the historical and legal status quo that exists in the holy city including the confiscation of properties and bank accounts of the city's churches by the so-called "Jerusalem Municipality" under the pretext of not paying dues.

The top clerics blasted the proposed Israeli legislation as "abhorrent... discriminatory and racist", saying that "this reminds us all of laws of a similar nature, which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe". The churches, major landowners in the city, say such a law would make it harder for them to find buyers for their land.

"Christians in Palestine along with their churches are an integral part of the Palestinian identity", Al-Qawasmi said in his statement.

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a major place of worship in Jerusalem's Old City.

Barkat stressed the changes applied only to establishments such as "hotels, halls and businesses" that were owned by the churches.

Further, a proposal before the national government also seeks to limit the ability of the Church to sell off to private investors the lands that it holds.

The protest comes after Jerusalem's municipality announced plans to modify a tax exemption in order to collect $186 million in unpaid taxes from Church assets.

"It is one of the main religious attractions, and to us it was very important to visit it because it is our first time (here)", she said.

"This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic, ab antiquo and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades", said Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, in an address Sunday afternoon. "We have no make them feel unwelcome", she said.

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