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Parks authority backs down from Mount of Olives park plan after outcry from churches

Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority says it is backing down from a contentious plan to encompass Christian holy sites on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives in a national park following outcry from major churches.

The Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem rises above Jerusalem’s Old City and its sites are holy to three monotheistic faiths. Its slopes to the east of the Old City are studded with churches of various sects that mark the traditional places of events in the life of Jesus.

The Armenian, Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches petitioned Israel’s environmental protection minister, whose department is in charge of the Parks Authority, in a letter last week.

The churches expressed the “gravest concern and unequivocal objection” to the plan, saying it would disrupt the longstanding state of affairs and aims to “confiscate and nationalize one of the holiest sites for Christianity and alter its nature.”

Shortly after the churches’ outcry, the Nature and Parks Authority says it is freezing the plan, which was to be approved on March 2 by Jerusalem’s planning committee.

The authority says it has “no intention of advancing the plan in the planning committee and it is not ready for discussion without coordination and communication with all relevant officials, including the churches, in the area.”

Israeli rights groups and peace activists denounced the plan as an attempt by Israeli authorities to marginalize Palestinian residents and increase the Jewish religious and national significance of the Mount of Olives.

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