NEWS

Jerusalem patriarch in Sharon pact?

JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has refused to recognize the Holy Land’s top Greek Orthodox clergyman, appears to have suddenly changed his mind – the latest wrinkle in a controversy involving property, religion and politics. Sharon urgently summoned five ministers earlier this week, according to yesterday’s edition of Maariv newspaper, to press them to support Greek Patriarch Irenaios I. Citing sources in Sharon’s hardline Likud Party, the newspaper said the Church – which owns valuable land in Jerusalem, including the property on which the Israeli Parliament sits – made promises to unnamed Likud operatives in exchange for government confirmation. Irenaios, who was elected in August 2001, is anxious for Israeli recognition and promised businessmen who wield influence in the ruling Likud that he would enter into unspecified land transactions with them, the report said. Raanan Gissin, a Sharon spokesman, declined to discuss the matter, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on any pending Cabinet decision on the patriarch’s status. Maariv also published what it said were excerpts of a letter from Irenaios to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that included anti-Semitic references, but the Church denounced the letter as a fake. «Why now, did this letter come up right now, when it was known that the government of Israel is about to recognize the patriarch?» asked the Rev. Economos Gabriel Nadaf, a church spokesman, at a press conference. «Different elements are using any means to prevent Israel’s recognition of the elected Patriarch Ireneos.» Nadaf said other fake letters falsely suggested Ireneos had offered land in exchange for government confirmation and that the Israeli police were investigating. «All these letters are completely false,» Nadaf said. Despite pressure from the Greek government and elsewhere, the Sharon government has steadfastly refused to recognize Irenaios I, saying he is too close to the Palestinian Authority. Irenaios has been quoted as saying that he intends to repossess as much of the Church’s vast land holdings as possible and that he supports the Palestinian cause.