The Vatican and an array of Christian churches in Jerusalem owe the Jerusalem Municipality hundreds of millions of shekels in overdue property tax, with the State of Israel and the Vatican in negotiations over the repayment of the debt, city officials said this week. According to law, properties that are used as houses of prayer are exempt from paying property tax (arnona). But the churches, which owe vast amounts of properties in Jerusalem, are required to pay property tax for buildings they own that are not used for worship, such as hostels and schools, the city said. The total amount of unpaid property tax amounts to roughly NIS 300 million, with the Latin Patriarchate the biggest offender, a city spokesman said. "The debts in question belong to many church institutions in Jerusalem, and primarily relate to adjoining establishments such as educational institutions, guest houses, and halls which belong to the churches," deputy city spokesman Rafi Shamir said in a written statement. "In the framework of the negotiations between the State of Israel and the Vatican it was agreed to freeze the debt collection against the church institutions on both a national and local level until the end of the negotiations," the statement read. The Vatican Embassy in Jerusalem refused to comment this week on the outstanding debt. The two sides are slated to meet next month in an effort to reach an agreement, officials said, with the Vatican said to be willing to pay only a symbolic fee for the city services it receives. The decision to freeze the debt collections from the churches came as Jerusalem senior citizens held a months-long struggle to ensure their property tax discounts would not be rescinded as the city originally planned.