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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Jerusalem Church leaders thank Jordan’s King Abdullah for support during Israel tax protest

Leaders of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre have thanked King Abdullah II of Jordan for the support he showed them during a tax dispute with Israel.

The church, which is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Christianity, closed its doors on Sunday in protest at Israeli authorities’ plans to enforce tax collection on church property considered to be commercial in the city.

The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic leaders of the church reopened the doors to worshippers on Wednesday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the new tax measures had been frozen. Custody of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by the three Christian denominations who each believe it is the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

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On Thursday, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III thanked King Abdullah, who had expressed his solidarity with the church leaders during the crisis, on behalf of the Christian community in Jerusalem.

“Your defence of religious freedom and Your leadership, in ensuring that the Status Quo is respected and maintained, has been crucial in our ongoing attempts to guard and protect the Christian presence especially in the Holy City of Jerusalem,” Theophilos III wrote in a letter addressed to the Jordanian king.

Christian clerics open the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many Christians to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem. Mahmoud Illean/ AP Photo
Christian clerics open the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many Christians to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem. Mahmoud Illean/ AP Photo

King Abdullah is the custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem under an agreement signed by the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in 2013.

The decision to close the church has not been taken since 1990 when Christian sites including the Holy Sepulchre closed for one day in protest at the installation of Jewish settlers nearby.

During the most recent protest, the church’s custodians called the tax proposals “a systematic attack” and “an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in occupied Jerusalem”.

Church leaders had also been alarmed by a separate bill which would have allowed lands sold by the Greek Orthodox Church to be handed over to the Israeli state.

Mr Netanyahu said a “professional team” would look to find a solution to the tax issue.