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A general view of Jerusalems old city shows the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, October 25, 2015.(Photo by: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
For first time ever, Russia to celebrate independence in Jerusalem
The move came weeks after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Russia will, for the first time, hold its annual Russia Day reception in Jerusalem on June 12, a year after declaring that west Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Until now, the reception has been held in the Tel Aviv area.

The move came weeks after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Russian reception will be held in Sergei Courtyard -- which until it was returned to the Russians in 2012 held the offices of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. A spokesman for the embassy stressed that the property was returned to Russia by Israel in 2008.

“Basically we believe that this compound symbolizes our culture and traditions, and is a genuine Russian piece of land in Israel, and in the Mideast in general,” he said. Sergei’s Courtyard is part of Jerusalem’s historic Russian Compound.

Russia Day, marking the adoption of the Declaration of Independence of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1990, is June 12, but the reception will be held on June 14. The declaration followed the breakup of the Soviet Union and proclaimed sovereignty over the Russian federation, and an intent to establish a democratic constitutional state. 

The spokesman stressed that the compound is in west Jerusalem, and that Russia has recognized west Jerusalem as Israel's capital. That being said, he added, “we need to emphasize that all final status issues, including Jerusalem, should be coordinated by the parties to the conflict, during direct talks, and Russia is ready to provide assistance to the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach relevant agreements.”

Sergei’s Courtyard was transferred to the Russians following a 2007 cabinet decision, before a visit by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to Moscow, which approved the transfer of ownership of the czarist-era landmark.

The building was constructed in 1890 to accommodate Russian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, and was named after Czar Alexander II’s son, Sergei Alexandrovich. The property has been renovated, and was reopened last year housing a hostel for Christian Orthodox pilgrims, a museum and a library.

Israel acquired some 90 percent of the Russian Compound in 1964, paying the former Soviet Union $3.5 million. The purchase was dubbed the “Orange Deal” because Israel, lacking hard currency, paid the Russians in citrus fruit. Sergei’s Courtyard, however, was part of the remaining 10% not covered in the deal, and Russian President Vladimir Putin made regaining the property a priority for his government.

Another country with a reception coming up is the United States whose July 4th reception will not be held – as it long has been – at the ambassador's residence in Herzliya, but rather in … Airport City.

That's right, Airport City.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy said that the decision to hold America's Independence Day celebration in Airport City was simply a function of size and comfort.

“They just thought it would be a nice place to do it,” she said. “Large, air conditioning, more parking.”

Asked whether there was the thought of holding the celebration in Jerusalem this year,  she replied, “I'm sure there probably was, but maybe they went for the option of doing it at a larger venue.”

As to why the event will not be held at the residence in Herzliya, with the lawn affording a commanding view of the sea, she replied, “I think they were hoping to have a bigger event, and people complained a lot [in the past] about the heat, being outside in the garden. It is cramped, especially if you want to expand the guest list.”
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