Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre reopens after protest

Worshippers shout slogans during a protest near the closed entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday, February 27. The church reopened after Israel backtracked from a tax plan and draft property legislation. (Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2018
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Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre reopens after protest

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, reopened on Wednesday after Israel backtracked on Tuesday from a tax plan and draft property legislation that triggered a three-day protest.
The rare decision on Sunday by church leaders to close the ancient holy site, a favorite among tourists and pilgrims, with the busy Easter holiday approaching put extra pressure on Israel to re-evaluate and suspend the moves.
After receiving a statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy announced on Tuesday the church would reopen the next morning.
Before dawn on Wednesday, Wajeeh Nusseibeh, who is charge of locking and unlocking the church, climbed a stepladder and turned the key to open its main wooden door.
“It’s one of the holiest sites for our religion and we prayed very hard these last three days that things would change and it would be open for us to be able to go in,” said an American pilgrim, who gave her name only as Laurie.
An Israeli committee led by cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi will negotiate with church representatives to try to resolve the dispute over plans to tax commercial properties owned by the church in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s statement said.
Church leaders, in a joint statement, welcomed the dialogue.
“After the constructive intervention of the prime minister, the churches look forward to engage with Minister Hanegbi, and with all those who love Jerusalem to ensure that our holy city, where our Christian presence continues to face challenges, remains a place where the three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) may live and thrive together.”
The Jerusalem Municipality, Netanyahu said, would suspend tax collection actions it had taken in recent weeks.
Mayor Nir Barkat has said the churches owed the city more than $180 million in property tax from their commercial holdings, adding that “houses of worship” would remain exempt.
While the review of the tax plan is under way, work on legislation that would allow Israel to expropriate land in Jerusalem that churches have sold to private real estate firms in recent years will also be suspended, Netanyahu said.
The bill’s declared aim is to protect homeowners against the possibility private companies will not extend their leases of land on which their residences stand.
Churches are major landowners in Jerusalem. They say such a law would make it harder for them to find buyers for their land- sales that help to cover operating costs of their religious institutions.


Security tops agenda as Iraqi PM visits Egypt in first foreign trip

Updated 23 March 2019
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Security tops agenda as Iraqi PM visits Egypt in first foreign trip

  • After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Abdul Mahdi highlighted “the importance of drying up the sources of terrorism”
  • The visit to Egypt is Abdul Mahdi’s first trip abroad since taking office in October

CAIRO: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sought Egypt’s support for efforts to tackle extremist militants in the region during a visit to Cairo on Saturday, his first trip abroad since taking office in October.
After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Abdul Mahdi highlighted “the importance of drying up the sources of terrorism” and said “cooperation between Egypt and Iraq will be essential for this matter,” according to an official statement.
His comments came as US-backed forces said they had captured Daesh’s last shred of territory in eastern Syria at Baghouz, ending its territorial rule over a self-proclaimed caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq after years of fighting.
Though the defeat ends the group’s grip over the extremist quasi-state that it declared in 2014, it remains a threat.
Some Daesh fighters still hold out in Syria’s remote central desert and in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings and awaiting a chance to rise again.
The United States thinks the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq.
Defeating militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and restoring security after years of unrest has been a key promise of El-Sisi, the general-turned-president who came to power a year after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in 2013.
Egypt has fought an insurgency waged by a Daesh affiliate in North Sinai since 2013. Hundreds of members of the security forces have been killed.