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Israeli court approves Jerusalem church land sale to settler group

Greek Orthodox Archbishop describes decision as ‘illegal and illegitimate’

By AFP - Jun 12,2019 - Last updated at Jun 12,2019

This photo taken on Tuesday shows a view of the Petra hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate (AFP photo)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel's top court gave final approval for the 2004 alleged sale of properties by the Greek Orthodox Church to a Jewish pro-settlement organisation in mainly Palestinian areas of annexed East Jerusalem.

In its ruling on Monday, the supreme court rejected the church's appeal against a district court's 2017 approval of the same deal. 

Three companies linked to a group named Ateret Cohanim in 2004 secured the long-term lease of three buildings owned by the Greek Orthodox Church — the Petra hostel and the New Imperial Hotel, both located by the Jaffa Gate, and a residential building in the Muslim Quarter.

Ateret Cohanim works to "Judaise" East Jerusalem in its entirety by purchasing real estate in the city's Palestinian areas through front companies.

The deal made Ateret Cohanim the owner of the majority of the properties between the Old City's Jaffa Gate and Arab market.

A source close to the Greek Orthodox patriarchy of the early 2000's told AFP in 2017 that the church was unaware of the land sale. 

The church asserts that the deal, conducted in 2004, was conducted illegally, and said in 2017 after Israel’s Jerusalem District Court ruled against it that the court “disregarded the Patriarchate's clear and concrete legal evidence proving bad faith, bribery and conspiracy”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Palestinian Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna described the supreme court's decision as "illegal and illegitimate".

“The seizure of the historic Jaffa Gate properties by extremist settler organisations is a new catastrophe to the misfortunes suffered by the Christians in this Holy City,” he said, calling for the deal to be cancelled in a lawful manner.

The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and wealthiest church in the Holy Land.

Israel took over mainly Palestinian East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

The Palestinians envisage East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, as the capital of their future state.

Some 320,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, while the Israeli settler population there has grown to 210,000.

The Jerusalem district court had dealt with claims against the deal for nine years before approving it. 

The supreme court said the earlier ruling was sound and “the appeal is rejected”.

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