The European Union expressed on Monday hope for a quick solution to the closure of the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem."We hope that a solution can be found quickly," said EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. "Jerusalem is a holy city to the three monotheistic religions. The special status and character of the city must be preserved and respected by all."Church leaders in Jerusalem shut the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday, February 25 in protest at a new Israeli tax policy and a proposed land expropriation law which they called an unprecedented attack on Christians in the Holy Land.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al Safadi voiced anger at Israel's handling of the situation in the holy city. "Jerusalem is key to the peace, Jerusalem is holy as you said to Muslims, Christians, and Jews; it must be a symbol of peace," he said. "Unfortunately, this is not the case while east Jerusalem remains under occupation and hostage to fear and despair." Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian church leaders said the holy site, a popular stop for pilgrims and where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried, would remain closed until further notice.If Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not willing to pay property taxes owed to the city, then it should turn to the courts, said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Israeli News Broadcasting Corporation Kan radio Monday morning."The debt has accumulated over years. We have done what we would do to every other citizen," said Barkat."If they are not satisfied, the church is welcome to turn to the court. I'm surprised they haven't done so," he added."I don't understand the protest, they are harming themselves. They should pay the tax and solve the issue or turn to the courts," said Barkat. "As mayor, I don't have any discretion relating to tax issues."The closure comes as Jerusalem remains one of the thorniest issues in long-running Middle East peace efforts.The United States said last week it will open its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May, a move from Tel Aviv that reverses decades of US policy and is bound to trouble US allies who have already objected.EU foreign ministers met with their Arab counterparts on Monday to tackle the peace process.
Disappointed pilgrims pray outside closed doors of Holy Sepulchre Church, February 26, 2018 (Reuters)