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Church leader in Jerusalem says Israeli extremists threaten Christian presence in city


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© Reuters. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III arrives at the Church of the Nativity to celebrate Christmas according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, January 6, 2022. File photo. January 6, 2022. CHEAP

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By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem has accused Israeli extremist groups of threatening the presence of Christians in the holy city, in remarks made by Israeli officials. Refusal is baseless.

In a column in the Times of London on Saturday, His Beauty, Theophilos III, said he believes the aim is to push the Christian community away from Jerusalem’s Old City, home to spiritual sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a war in 1967. It annexed East Jerusalem after the war in a move not internationally recognized.

“Our presence in Jerusalem is at stake,” the cardinal wrote in the article, published a day after the Greek Orthodox Christmas.

“Our churches are being threatened by Israeli extremist groups,” he said. “At the hands of these Jewish extremists, the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly,” he said. .”

“Our brothers and sisters are victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly insulted and vandalized. Our clergy are regularly threatened.”

By pointing to the extremists as being Israeli, Theophilos’ criticism is more personal and strategic than the collective statement made by the heads of other Jerusalem churches before Christmas.

Their statement spoke of “regular and persistent attacks by fringe extremist groups” but did not identify them as Israeli.

A US State Department report released last year on religious freedom around the world said Christian clerics and pilgrims continue to report cases of ultra-Orthodox Jews. in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them.

Church groups have for some time reported vandalism attacks at religious sites in the city. Theophilos does not accuse any extremist groups by name or cite specific cases. He did not provide evidence that they were Israelis, or that their goal was to drive Christians from the city.

On Sunday, an Israeli official said the reality for Christians is completely different from the reality described by the cardinal, citing a statement from the Foreign Ministry on Dec. dropped the statements of previous church leaders.

“Since the day it was established, the State of Israel has been committed to guaranteeing freedom of religion and worship for all religions, as well as ensuring freedom of access to sacred sites,” the statement said. Ministry said.

“The statement by Church leaders in Jerusalem is particularly infuriating as they remain silent about the plight of many Christian communities in the Middle East who are suffering from discrimination and persecution.”

In his column, Theophilos said the radicals he criticized “do not represent the state of Israel or the Jewish people”, while calling for Jerusalem to remain a diverse Jewish “mosaic community”. Taoism, Christianity and Islam.

(This story has been edited to include a omitted word in the title.)

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