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.”


Daesh claims Syria attack that killed 14, including 2 US soldiers

Updated 57 min 2 sec ago
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Daesh claims Syria attack that killed 14, including 2 US soldiers

  • Seven civilians died in the attack, while 10 others were wounded
  • A member of the US-led military was killed, and another was severely injured

BEIRUT: A blast struck near a US-led coalition patrol in Syria’s northern city of Manbij on Wednesday, and a war monitor said 14 people were killed including two Americans.
An Daesh-affiliated web site, Amaq, said an attacker with an explosive vest had struck a foreign military patrol in a suicide attack.
Reuters could not independently verify a report by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that 14 people had been killed in the attack including two US soldiers. The coalition could not be immediately reached for comment.
Last month, US President Donald Trump made a surprise announcement that he would withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria after concluding Daesh had been defeated there. The announcement rattled allies in the region and top US officials, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis who quit.
Two witnesses described Wednesday’s blast to Reuters. The US-backed, Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council militia that controls the town said there was preliminary information that people had been injured in Wednesday’s attack.
Manbij has been held by US-backed fighters allied to the Kurdish YPG militia since they took it from Daesh in 2016. It is located near areas held by Russian-backed Syrian government forces and by anti-Assad fighters backed by Turkey.
One of the witnesses said there was a “heavy” presence of military aircraft over Manbij following the blast, which took place near a vegetable market.