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Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem Re-opens

Church of Holy Spulchre re-opens
Pilgrims pray outside the closed gate of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City on February 27, 2018. (Times of Israel)
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem Re-opens

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, seen by many as the holiest site in Christianity, reopened on Wednesday after a three-day closure to protest against Israeli tax measures and a proposed law, Times of Israel rports.

The two men who act as keepers of the key of the church opened its large wooden doors at around 4:00 a.m., ending the protest that began on Sunday at noon.

Wajeeh Nusseibeh, who is charge of locking and unlocking the church, climbed a stepladder and turned the key to open its main wooden door.

Shortly afterwards, a group of pilgrims arrived to visit the sacred site.

The church is built where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Custody of it is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations.

According to Reuters, the rare decision on Sunday by church leaders to close the ancient holy site, a favorite among tourists and pilgrims, with the busy Easter holiday approaching put extra pressure on Israel to re-evaluate and suspend the moves.

“It’s one of the holiest sites for our religion and we prayed very hard these last three days that things would change and it would be open for us to be able to go in,” American pilgrim, who gave her name only as Laurie told Reuters.

The closure — which seemed to be the longest since at least 1990 — had left thousands of pilgrims and tourists seeking to visit locked outside.

Tuesday’s decision to call off the protest came after the Prime Minister’s office announced earlier in the day that it was suspending the tax collection and freezing the legislation until a newly formed committee — to be headed by Regional Cooperation  Minister Tzachi Hanegbi —  could work out the issues with the churches.

“After the constructive intervention of the Prime Minister, The Churches look forward to engage with Minister Hanegbi, and with all those who love Jerusalem, to ensure that Our Holy City, where our Christian presence continues to face challenges, remains a place where the three Monotheistic faiths may live and thrive together,” the church leaders said in a statement.

In addition to the Jerusalem Municipality suspending the tax collection actions it has taken in recent weeks, the government will also suspend all pending legislation regarding church land until the committee examines the issue, the Prime Minister’s Office announced, saying that the committee would work “with the participation of all relevant parties, to formulate a solution for the issue of municipal taxes on properties owned by churches that are not houses of worship.”

While the review of the tax plan is under way, work on legislation that would allow Israel to expropriate land in Jerusalem that churches have sold to private real estate firms in recent years will also be suspended, Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu said.

The bill’s declared aim is to protect homeowners against the possibility private companies will not extend their leases of land on which their residences stand.

Churches are major landowners in Jerusalem. They say such a law would make it harder for them to find buyers for their land- sales that help to cover operating costs of their religious institutions.