Christian leaders urge Israeli PM to nix church lands bill

Earlier this year, the churches shut Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher for three days after the municipality tried to levy taxes on church properties.(AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018
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Christian leaders urge Israeli PM to nix church lands bill

  • Christian leaders are urging Netanyahu to stop a bill that the churches say would allow the state to appropriate land sold to buyers
  • The government’s Ministerial Legislation Committee will reportedly vote on the bill on Sunday

JERUSALEM: Three major Holy Land churches on Friday called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block draft legislation they said was aimed at expropriating their property.
In a letter to Netanyahu seen by AFP, heads of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches in Jerusalem and a senior Roman Catholic official condemned the bill as “disgraceful.”
They said its inclusion on the agenda of a government committee meeting scheduled for Sunday reneged on previous commitments to withdraw the law.
Swathes of Jerusalem are held by various churches, in many cases under long-term leases from the state.
The churches then sublet the properties on the commercial market.
In February, Jerusalem municipality began enforcing tax collection on church property — excluding places of worship.
Separately, parliament was working on a law that would allow the state to intervene in the resale of leases to commercial property developers.
The religious leaders protested by closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site in Jerusalem where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.
Israeli authorities then froze both the tax measures and the legislation, committing to a dialogue with the churches over the issues.
In their letter Friday, the churchmen said Netanyahu himself had written to them in July giving “assurances to withdraw the legislation.”
“We were astonished to realize that this disgraceful bill was listed on the agenda of the ministerial committee for legislation this coming Sunday,” it said.
“We are therefore compelled to call yet again for Your Excellency’s urgent intervention to stop this bill once and for all.”
The cabinet office listed the bill among several “added to the agenda” of Sunday’s meeting.
Listed as a bill for tenants’ rights, it aims to safeguard residents of properties assigned to “various bodies” on 99-year leases during the 1950s.
The bill’s sponsor, MP Rachel Azaria of the centrist Kulanu party says it was meant to solve the problem of “thousands of Jerusalem residents who could lose their homes due to the demands of developers.”


Yemeni army advance west of Taiz in operation to cut off Houthi militia supply routes

Updated 1 min 39 sec ago
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Yemeni army advance west of Taiz in operation to cut off Houthi militia supply routes

Yemen’s national army on Sunday advanced west of Taiz on the second day of a military operation to cut off Houthi militia supply routes.

A Yemeni military source that said heavy clashes with the militia killed several of their commanders during the operation, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The source added that the militia fired five rocket-propelled grenades from its positions in Mount Al-Barqa on civilian homes however no casualties were reported.

The Yemeni army forces also thwarted an attempt by the Houthi militia to recover their positions in western Taiz.

A field source reported that groups of the militia tried to sneak into the old airport and Wata Al-Khazan, west of the city.

Clashes broke out between the two sides following the attempt, which leading to several losses on the Houthi side, causing the militia to flee.