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JERUSALEM (Reuters)

Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, reopened on Wednesday after Israel backtracked on Tuesday from a tax plan and draft property legislation that triggered a three-day protest

The rare decision on Sunday by church leaders to close the ancient holy site, a favourite among tourists and pilgrims, with the busy Easter holiday approaching put extra pressure on Israel to re-evaluate and suspend the moves.

 

Worshippers shout slogans during a protest near the closed entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
Worshippers shout slogans during a protest near the closed entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

After receiving a statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy announced on Tuesday the church would reopen the next morning.

 

A worshipper holds a cross during a protest in front of the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
A worshipper holds a cross during a protest in front of the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

Before dawn on Wednesday, Wajeeh Nusseibeh, who is charge of locking and unlocking the church, climbed a stepladder and turned the key to open its main wooden door.

 

A worshipper touches the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
A worshipper touches the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

“It’s one of the holiest sites for our religion and we prayed very hard these last three days that things would change and it would be open for us to be able to go in,” said an American pilgrim, who gave her name only as Laurie.

 

Worshipper sit next to the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
Worshipper sit next to the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

An Israeli committee led by cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi will negotiate with church representatives to try to resolve the dispute over plans to tax commercial properties owned by the church in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s statement said.

 

A man carries wooden crosses, near the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem's Old City
A man carries wooden crosses, near the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

Church leaders, in a joint statement, welcomed the dialogue.

“After the constructive intervention of the prime minister, the churches look forward to engage with Minister Hanegbi, and with all those who love Jerusalem to ensure that our holy city, where our Christian presence continues to face challenges, remains a place where the three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) may live and thrive together.”

 

Worshippers hold a cross during a protest in front of the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
Worshippers hold a cross during a protest in front of the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

The Jerusalem Municipality, Netanyahu said, would suspend tax collection actions it had taken in recent weeks. Mayor Nir Barkat has said the churches owed the city more than $180 million in property tax from their commercial holdings, adding that “houses of worship” would remain exempt.

 

Worshippers pray next to the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
Worshippers pray next to the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

While the review of the tax plan is under way, work on legislation that would allow Israel to expropriate land in Jerusalem that churches have sold to private real estate firms in recent years will also be suspended, Netanyahu said.

 

A worshipper stands next to the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
A worshipper stands next to the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

The bill’s declared aim is to protect homeowners against the possibility private companies will not extend their leases of land on which their residences stand.

 

A worshipper places his head on an altar in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
A worshipper places his head on an altar in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

Churches are major landowners in Jerusalem. They say such a law would make it harder for them to find buyers for their land- sales that help to cover operating costs of their religious institutions.

 

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

 

 

A worshipper touches the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
A worshipper touches the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

 

Worshippers hold a cross during a protest in front of the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
Worshippers hold a cross during a protest in front of the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

Worshippers touch the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City
Worshippers touch the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

Worshippers hold candles during a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem's Old City
Worshippers hold candles during a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

A nun uses her mobile phone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem's Old City
A nun uses her mobile phone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
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