Christian leaders close church at Jesus' burial site in tax dispute

Christian leaders in Israel closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (pictured) in protest against Israeli tax measures, on Feb 25, 2018.
Christian leaders in Israel closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (pictured) in protest against Israeli tax measures, on Feb 25, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Christian leaders Sunday (Feb 25) took the rare step of closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site of Jesus's burial in Jerusalem, in protest at Israeli tax measures and a proposed property law.

It was not immediately clear how long the closure of the church, announced by Christian officials at a news conference and which began at around noon (6pm Singapore time), would last.

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.

They said recent Israeli measures seemed to be "an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem".

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 abhorrent Bill is set to advance today in a meeting of a ministerial committee which if approved would make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible," the statement said.

"This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during a dark period in Europe."