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Pilgrims locked out as Jerusalem holy site shut for second day

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AFP Jerusalem
The Jerusalem church built at what many consider the holiest site in Christianity remained closed for a second day today to protest Israeli tax measures and a proposed law, leaving hundreds of disappointed and perplexed pilgrims locked outside. Christian leaders took the rare step of closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre yesterday at noon in a bid to pressure Israeli authorities into abandoning the measures. They said the church, a major pilgrimage site where thousands visit daily, would be closed until further notice. Church officials said Monday it was not clear when it would reopen, depending on discussions with Christian leaders and Israeli authorities. The church is built where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Custody of it is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations. Disappointed tourists gathered Monday in front of its large wooden doors in Jerusalem's Old City hoping they would have the chance to visit, some having difficulty understanding why it was closed. Some held an improvised prayer around a wooden cross. "We were told it's political. It is disheartening -- it is such a holy place," said Aleana Doughty, a 35-year-old dental hygienist visiting with a group from the United States. Michael Katten and his wife Vanagakshi, visiting from India, were also locked out. Vanagakshi said she had promised to bring her mother something from the church and say a prayer. "It is silly that they cannot solve this," Michael Katten said. Christian leaders are angry over attempts by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem to enforce tax collection on church property they consider commercial, saying exemptions only apply to places of worship or religious teaching. They also say legislation being considered by Israel's government would allow church property to be expropriated. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters in Brussels "we hope that a solution can be found quickly."

"Jerusalem is a holy city to the three monotheistic religions. The special status and character of the city must be maintained and respected by all." The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, located near the Holy Sepulchre, was also closed in protest on Monday. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat says the city is due 650 million shekels in uncollected taxes on church properties. He stresses the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and all other churches are exempt, with the changes only affecting establishments like "hotels, halls and businesses" owned by the churches.

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First Published: Feb 26 2018 | 11:15 PM IST

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