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Doors Closed on Church of the Holy Sepulchre

02 March 2018

Shortly afterwards, a group of pilgrims emerged from the still darkened corridors of Jerusalem's Old City to visit the sacred site.

Adeeb Joudeh, the custodian of the keys, said that the church was reopened to the public at 4am local time (02:00 GMT).

The church leaders' closing of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher during Lent, close to Easter, the busiest time for pilgrims, drew global attention and condemnation.

The church is revered as the site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

But on Sunday, leaders from the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches announced they would be closing the church doors in protest of what they described as "discriminatory" Israeli policy aimed at weakening Christian presence in Jerusalem. There has also been a proposal in parliament that would allow the government to appropriate lands in Israel sold by churches to anonymous buyers since 2010.

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Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom all supported the resolution and yet they were immediately in breach of its provisions, as each has embassies or consulates in Jerusalem that openly serve as their chief diplomatic missions to the Palestinian Authority. However, Christian leaders reversed their decision on Tuesday following the Israeli government€™s decision to suspend the measures.

Two days later Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, stepped in. "It's a very good step ... and they realised you can not talk to the churches with threats".

Church leaders said Nir Barkat, the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, was violating global treaties that exempt churches from state taxes.

He stresses churches themselves are exempt, with the changes only affecting establishments like "hotels, halls and businesses" owned by them.

Israeli politicians are also threatening to confiscate the land before it falls "into the hands of private developers", according to Haaretz. The churches have a lot to lose as they hold large tranches of urban land within the city premises. Christian leaders protested the move saying, "This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe".

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The dispute over the taxes and proposed law is also linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel occupied Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and declared it as its eternal capital in 1980. The move was accompanied by angry reactions from the Palestinians, who see part of Jerusalem as their future capital, and dire warnings of increased tensions from the global community.

He said the measures could have been potentially more damaging for the smaller churches, such as the Ethiopian and Syriac churches, and some Catholic religious congregations would have had to close some of their institutions if the measures had been carried out.

In 1990, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was among the churches that were closed for 24 hours in protest against the occupation of St John's Hospice by Jewish settlers.

Sameh Zakaria and his wife Amira, a Dutch-Egyptian Coptic couple, visited the church from the Netherlands on Wednesday.

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Doors Closed on Church of the Holy Sepulchre