Tue, Feb 27, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Famed Jerusalem church stays shut amid tax dispute


Worshipers yesterday stand in front of the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Photo: Reuters

Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site where Christians believe Jesus was buried, remained closed yesterday in protest at Israeli tax measures and a proposed property law.

Christian leaders took the rare step of closing the church, seen as the holiest site in Christianity, on Sunday at noon in a bid to pressure Israeli authorities into abandoning the measures.

They said the church, a major pilgrimage site, would be closed until further notice.

The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches share custody of the church.

Christian leaders have been angered over attempts by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem to enforce tax collection on church property they consider commercial, saying exemptions only apply to places of worship or religious teaching.

Separately, Christian leaders say legislation being considered by the government would allow church property to be expropriated.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the city is due 650 million shekels (US$186 million) in uncollected taxes on church properties.

He said the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and all other churches are exempt from the taxes, with the changes only affecting establishments like “hotels, halls and businesses” owned by the churches.

However, Christian leaders said the measure jeopardizes their ability to conduct their work, which includes not only religious, but also social services.

A separate bill seeks to allay the fears of Israelis who live in homes on lands previously held by the Greek Orthodox Church and which were sold to private developers.

The bill would allow certain lands sold by the Greek Orthodox Church to be handed over to the state, which would then compensate those who bought the land.

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