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

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.”


New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

Updated 18 September 2020

New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

  • CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York.

“Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s Future Caliph” is based on Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) — the paper trail the US military creates when enemy fighters are detained and interrogated — from Al-Mawla’s time in captivity in the late 2000s.

Before his release in 2009, Al-Mawla named 88 extremists involved in terrorist activities, and the information he divulged during his interrogations led US forces in the region to successfully capture or kill dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters, the report claims.

The CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US air raid in Syria in October 2019.

Although Daesh announced that a man called Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was Baghdadi’s successor, US officials have also stated that Al-Qurashi’s true identity is actually Al-Mawla — also known as Hajj Abdullah.

Before joining Daesh, Al-Mawla is believed to have been the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda.

While details about the operation resulting in his capture are scarce, the TRIs reveal that he was captured on January 6, 2008.

The following day, US Central Command announced the capture of a wanted individual who “previously served as a judge of an illegal court system involved in ordering and approving abductions and executions.”

In his interrogations, Al-Mawla offered up details of terrorist plots to his interrogators, while minimizing his own involvement. He identified many jihadists by name and offered descriptions of their roles in the terrorist organization and details of their involvement in attacks on US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al-Mawla — a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and once Baghdadi’s speechwriter — emerges from the TIRs as a mysterious personality with a vague past, whose ethnicity could not be determined with certainty. The statements in the reports are rife with contradictory elements and open to a wide range of interpretations. As the authors point out in their introduction: “It is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether what Al-Mawla divulges regarding himself or ISI (the forerunner of Daesh) as an organization is true.”

Details of the specific demographics of Al Mawla’s birthplace of Al-Muhalabiyyah in Iraq’s Tal Afar district are sketchy, but it is generally accepted to have a predominantly Turkmen population. The authors of the report point out that some sources have suggested “this could pose legitimacy problems for him because (Daesh) mostly has Arabs in its senior leadership echelons,” but add that at least two other senior members of the group were reported to have been Turkmen.

Al-Mawla also claimed to have avoided pledging allegiance to ISI because he was a Sufi. The report’s authors cast doubt on that claim, given his quick rise to prominence in the terrorist group and the fact that ISI and Daesh branded Sufism as heresy.

But the authors do believe the TRIs give some valuable insights into Al-Mawla’s personality.

“The fact that he detailed activities and gave testimony against (fellow jihadists) suggests a willingness to offer up fellow members of the group to suit his own ends,” they wrote. “The amount of detail and seeming willingness to share information about fellow organization members suggests either a degree of nonchalance, strategic calculation, or resignation on the part of Al-Mawla regarding operational security.

“He appears to have named individuals in some capacity across all levels of the organization, while describing some individuals in some detail,” they continued.

The US Department of Justice has offered a $10million reward for information about Al-Mawla’s identification or location.