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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Four Christian leaders have appealed to Attorney General Menahem Mazuz following an incident a month and a half ago in which the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III and hundreds of church members were not allowed to hold a special holiday prayer in an east Jerusalem church.
Jerusalem police claimed that they kept Theophilos and his followers out in order to prevent a confrontation between the patriarch and deposed patriarch Irineos I, who was in the church at the time.
Last May, Irineos was deposed by a Holy Synod that convened in Istanbul in May after he was accused of signing long-term leases on chunks of prime real estate in Jerusalem's Old City, including the Imperial Hotel and the Petra Hotel near Jaffa Gate, to Ateret Kohanim, an organization dedicated to creating a Jewish presence in Arab-populated areas of Jerusalem.
Both Irineos and Ateret Kohanim deny the deals and an investigation conducted by the Palestinian Authority backed up Irineos. But due to internal Greek politics and a power play within the Greek Church, the accusations against Irineos were used to oust him. Nevertheless, the deal was used by Irineos's enemies to turn the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Greece against him.
Irineos's Arab flock, about 35,000 inside the Green Line, another 20,000 in Judea and Samaria and perhaps 100,000 more in Jordan and as far east as the Arab Emirates, also did not like the rumors about the land deal.
Greece, Jordan and the PA have recognized the ousting of Irineos and the appointment of Theophilus. Israel has not.
Theophilos and his church members, who were forced to pray outside the church, viewed the police's refusal to allow them to enter the church as an insult and a violation of their religious freedom.
"We see every stopping worshippers from entering a church to pray as a serious problem that affects all the churches under our auspices," the letter, signed by the Greek Orthodox patriarch, the Roman Catholic patriarch, the Armenian patriarch, and the leader of the Franciscan order in the Holy Land, declared.
Mazuz was asked to bring the church leaders' position to the relevant government officials in order to assure that such incidences do not reoccur.