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Christian leaders took the rare step on Sunday of closing Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built where tradition holds Jesus was buried, in protest at Israeli tax measures and a proposed property law, AFP reported.
It was not clear how long the closure of the church, announced by Christian officials at a news conference would last. Church officials said only that it would be until further notice.
The church is considered the holiest site in Christianity, built where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, and is a major pilgrimage site.
“As a measure of protest, we decided to take this unprecedented step of closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Catholic leaders said in a statement read out in front of the church’s large wooden doors.
They said recent Israeli measures seemed to be “an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem”.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority condemned the move as a “new aggression against the city of Jerusalem” that could see Israel exert control over land belonging to churches. The decision to close the church was extremely rare.
In 1990, Christian sites including the Holy Sepulchre were closed for a day to protest the installation of Jewish settlers near the church, located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Christian sites were shut for two days in 1999 to protest the planned construction of a mosque near Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation, where tradition holds the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary she was to become the mother of Jesus.
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 Israel’s government would allow church property to be expropriated.
“This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during a dark period in Europe,” the statement said.
An Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday delayed action on the bill for a week.