Israeli court finalizes Jerusalem church land sale to settler group

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An Orthodox Jewish man is seen using a cell phone while walking past the New Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate. (AFP)
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An Israeli flag flying near the New Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate. (AFP)
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A view of the New Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate. (AFP)
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An Orthodox Jewish man is seen walking past the New Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate. (AFP)
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An Israeli flag flying near the New Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate. (AFP)
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A view of the New Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate. (AFP)
Updated 11 June 2019
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Israeli court finalizes Jerusalem church land sale to settler group

  • Three companies linked to a group named Ateret Cohanim in 2004 secured the long-term lease of three buildings owned by the Greek Orthodox Church
  • Israel took over mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community

JERUSALEM: Israel’s top court gave final approval Monday for the 2004 sale of properties by the Greek Orthodox Church to a Jewish pro-settlement organization in mainly Palestinian areas of annexed east Jerusalem.
In its Monday decision, the supreme court rejected the church’s appeal against a district court’s 2017 approval of the same deal.
Three companies linked to a group named Ateret Cohanim in 2004 secured the long-term lease of three buildings owned by the Greek Orthodox Church — the Petra hostel and the New Imperial Hotel, both located by the Jaffa Gate, and a residential building in the Muslim Quarter.
Ateret Cohanim works to “Judaise” east Jerusalem in its entirety by purchasing real estate in the city’s Palestinian areas through front companies.
The deal made Ateret Cohanim the owner of the majority of the properties between the Old City’s Jaffa Gate and Arab market.
A source close to the Greek Orthodox patriarchy of the early 2000’s told AFP in 2017 that the church was unaware of the land sale.
The sale triggered Palestinian anger and led to the 2005 dismissal of Patriarch Irineos I.
In a statement on Tuesday, Palestinian Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna described the Supreme Court’s decision as “illegal and illegitimate.”
“The seizure of the historic Jaffa Gate properties by extremist settler organizations is a new catastrophe to the misfortunes suffered by the Christians in this Holy City,” he said, calling for the deal to be canceled in a lawful manner.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and wealthiest church in the Holy Land.
Its Jerusalem patriarchate commands massive wealth, largely in land portfolios in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jordan, with Palestinians often accusing it of selling or leasing properties to Israel.
Israel took over mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
It now considers the entire city its capital, citing the Jewish historical and biblical connection there.
The Palestinians see east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, as the capital of their future state.
Some 320,000 Palestinians live in east Jerusalem, while the Israeli settler population there has grown to 210,000.
The Jerusalem district court had dealt with claims against the deal for nine years before approving it.
The supreme court said the earlier ruling was sound and “the appeal is rejected.”


Militant rocket fire kills 12 civilians in Syria: state media

Updated 17 June 2019
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Militant rocket fire kills 12 civilians in Syria: state media

  • Former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham being blamed for the attack

DAMASCUS: Rocket fire has killed 12 civilians in a regime-held village in northwestern Syria, state news agency SANA has said blaming former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham for the attack.

SANA said 15 people were also wounded late Sunday in the attack on Al-Wadihi village south of Aleppo city and said HTS, which controls parts of Aleppo’s countryside as well as most of neighboring Idlib, was responsible.

It published graphic pictures purporting to show some of the victims in a hospital in the aftermath of the attack, including of bandaged men and children lying on stretchers, thick blankets covering their bodies.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the same death toll — saying five children were among those killed — and also blamed militants based in rural Aleppo for the attack.

But the Britain-based monitor did not specify whether HTS or other allied militant groups were responsible.

The attack came as Syrian government forces have been locked in clashes with HTS fighters in nearby Hama province.

More than 35 combatants, mostly regime forces, were killed on Saturday in battles in Hama’s countryside, according to the Observatory.

Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented as militants refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, HTS extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.