Christian leaders close church at Jesus’s burial site in tax dispute

In this file photo taken on April 13, 2014 a general view shows the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the Palm Sunday Easter procession in Jerusalem's Old City on April 13, 2014. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2018
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Christian leaders close church at Jesus’s burial site in tax dispute

JERUSALEM: Christian leaders in Jerusalem closed one of the city’s holiest sites to visitors on Sunday in protest at a proposed new Israeli law that threatens expropriation of church land.
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian church leaders said the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a popular stop for pilgrims, would remain closed until further notice.
In response, an Israeli Cabinet committee delayed consideration of a draft law that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold by churches to private property companies.
The stated aim of the law is to protect homeowners against the possibility that private companies will not extend their leases on land on which their homes are built.
The churches are major property owners in the city. They say the law would make it harder for them to find buyers for church-owned land — sales that help to cover their operating costs.
“This abhorrent bill ... if approved, would make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible,” said the statement by Theophilos III, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, and Nourhan Manougian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Rachel Azaria, the Knesset member who sponsored the legislation, said she woud delay discussion of the law by a week so that “we could work with the churches” to try to resolve the dispute.
The churches’ protest was also aimed at the recent cancelation by Israel’s Jerusalem municipality of a tax exemption it has granted to church-owned commercial properties in the city.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said it was illogical to expect that church-owned commercial property, including hotels and retail businesses, would continue to enjoy tax-exempt status.
“Let me make it clear: we are not talking about houses of worship, which will still be exempt from property tax, according to law,” he said.
Outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, pilgrims voiced their disappointment at finding its doors shut.
“I am very upset. It’s my first time here and I made a big effort to get here and now I find it closed,” said Marine Domenech from Lille, France.


Lebanon says it foiled plots to stage attacks in May

Updated 57 min 54 sec ago
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Lebanon says it foiled plots to stage attacks in May

  • The attacks were planned from Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and were timed to coincide with Lebanon’s general election, the interior minister said
  • Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces monitored the plot and thwarted it, he said

BEIRUT: Lebanon foiled a plot by militants based in Syria to carry out two attacks this year against places of worship and Lebanese army positions, Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said on Monday.
The attacks were planned from Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and were timed to coincide with Lebanon’s general election that took place in May, he said in a televised news conference.
Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces monitored the plot and thwarted it, he said. The country remains safe for both residents and visitors, he added.
Lebanese authorities say they have disrupted or foiled numerous attacks in recent years, including some linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria. From 2013-2016 militants struck Lebanon repeatedly with bomb attacks
Idlib province is part of the last remaining stronghold in Syria outside government control and much of it is held by extremist rebel groups including the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Lebanon shares power among its religious sects and has maintained a “dissociation” policy of staying out of regional conflicts.
However, Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah has played a key military role in Syria supporting President Bashar Assad against mostly Sunni rebels seeking to oust him.