Middle East

Russia expresses ‘deep concerns’ over settler takeover of Christian land in Jerusalem

Russia said yesterday that it was “deeply concerned” by an Israeli court’s decision allowing Jewish settler groups to purchase Christian property in Jerusalem.

Early this month, Israel’s High Court ruled in favour of settler group Ateret Cohanim, which takes over Palestinian lands from Muslims and Christians in occupied Jerusalem and gives it to Jews in an attempt to change the city’s identity.

Ateret Cohanim bought three buildings from the church in a controversial deal struck in secret in 2004, but the church then submitted a petition against the sale, stressing that the properties were acquired illegally and without its permission.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation regarding the Christian presence in Jerusalem,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

“Such a decision is predictably detrimental to interfaith peace and raises legitimate concerns about the position of the Christian community in the Holy Land,” she added.

Prior to Moscow, the Office of the European Union Representative in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip said that takeover by Israeli settlers of Christian property in Jerusalem jeopardises the heritage and traditions of the Christian community.

“Attempts by settlers to take over Christian property in the Old City of Jerusalem must be halted as they jeopardise the heritage and traditions of the Christian community,” a statement said.

It also said: “They pose a threat to peaceful coexistence of all three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem, as well as to the established religious equilibrium.”

The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and wealthiest church in Palestine, commanding massive real estate holdings dating back hundreds of years.

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