JERUSALEM: Christian leaders on Sunday 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 (1000 GMT), 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.”

Confused tourists stood in front of the church’s closed doors in Jerusalem’s Old City after the announcement as tour guides sought to explain why they could not visit.

One man knelt and prayed as workers began putting metal barriers around the entrance.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2018

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