Occupied Jerusalem: The church in occupied Jerusalem built at the site many see as the holiest in Christianity reopened on Wednesday after a three-day closure to protest against Israeli measures had left thousands of visitors locked outside.
The two men who act as keepers of the key of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre opened its large wooden doors at around 4am (0200 GMT), ending the protest that began on Sunday at noon.
Shortly afterwards, a group of pilgrims emerged from the still darkened corridors of occupied Jerusalem’s Old City to visit the sacred site.
“We prayed in front of the doors every day since Sunday,” said Francois-Roch Ferlet, a 29-year-old visiting with a group of 50 people from France, standing near the ornate shrine encasing the traditional site of Jesus’s tomb inside the church.
They were due to leave later on Wednesday and were relieved they were able to visit.
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.
The closure seemed to be the longest since at least 1990.
Christian leaders decided to reopen the church after Israel on Tuesday suspended tax measures they strongly oppose.
A proposed law that Christian leaders say would allow Israel to expropriate church land is also to be shelved.
A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said a “professional team” would be appointed to come up with a solution to the tax measures imposed by Israeli authorities in occupied Jerusalem.
Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi will also look into the issue of land sales in occupied Jerusalem by Christian bodies, which prompted the proposed law that is now also suspended.
Christian leaders are in part angry over attempts by Israeli occupation authorities in occupied Jerusalem to enforce tax collection on church property they consider commercial, saying exemptions only apply to places of worship or religious teaching.
Occupied Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat says the city is due 650 million shekels (Dh683 million; $186 million/152 million euros) 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 churches.
Christian leaders say the measure jeopardises their ability to conduct their work, which also includes social services to those in need.