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Supreme Court upholds sale of Jerusalem church land to right-wing group

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III (C) leads the Palm Sunday Easter procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on April 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III (C) leads the Palm Sunday Easter procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on April 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

The Supreme Court rules that a right-wing group legally purchased an East Jerusalem property from the Greek Orthodox Church, ending a nearly two-decade battle over the Old City property.

The Ateret Cohanim organization, which seeks to expand Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, bought three buildings from the church in a controversial deal struck in secret in 2004. The sale triggered Palestinian anger and led to the dismissal of Patriarch Irineos I the following year.

The church brought charges against Ateret Cohanim, claiming the properties were acquired illegally and without its permission.

In a decision released last night, the Supreme Court dismisses the church’s appeal, noting that the “harsh allegations” of misconduct by the parties involved in the original sale were “not proven to be true” in earlier proceedings.

The church blasts that ruling as “unfair” and without “any legal logical basis.”

The church’s lawyer, Asaad Mazawi, tells AFP that the ruling marks “a very sad day.”

“We are talking about a group of extremists that want to take the properties from the churches, want to change the character of the Old City and want to invade the Christian areas,” he says. “Unfortunately they are succeeding.”

The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and wealthiest church in Jerusalem with extensive land holdings there dating back centuries.

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