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Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed

Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed

Christian leaders in Jerusalem have closed the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered the holiest site in Christianity, to protest a new Israeli tax policy and a proposed property law.

Separately, legislation being considered by the government would allow church property to be expropriated.

"These actions breach existing agreements and worldwide obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the churches, in what seems an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem".

"It doesn't make sense that commercial property like hotels, auditoriums, and businesses are exempt from paying municipal taxes just because they're owned by churches", Barkat tweeted on Sunday.

Mr Barkat said in a statement that the municipality will continue to care for Christians' needs but "hotels, halls and businesses can not be exempt from municipal taxes simply because they are owned by the churches".

In the announcement, the heads of the churches blasted the Israeli authorities for these plans.

Cardinal Nichols said the bill represented "an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community". Church officials only said that it would be until further notice.

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Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the pressure on the Christians by the Jewish state "should be a reminder of the need to end the Israeli occupation", Al Jazeera reported.

The leaders said: "The systematic campaign of abuse against Churches and Christians reaches now its peak as a discriminatory and racist bill that targets exclusively the properties of the Christian community".

The decision to close the church was extremely rare.

Meanwhile, Rachel Azaria of the Kulanu party, who proposed the land legislation, said that it aims to curb the fears of Israelis who live on lands previously held by the Greek Orthodox Church and which were sold to private developers.

The Christian leaders called the Knesset bill "abhorrent" and claimed that it is similar to laws "which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe". Hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated against the Greek Patriarch Theosopholis III in Nazareth in September, following the final announcement of the Church's sale of property in East Jerusalem to the settler group.

The minister underscored the Kingdom's solidarity with the churches, which announced the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in protest against the Israeli measures.

He pointed out the Israeli draft laws that are being discussed now and aim to confiscate lands of churches in Israel and the Palestinian territories.


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