NEWS

Patriarch’s ire at Israeli snub

JERUSALEM (AP) – The new Greek Orthodox patriarch of the Holy Land says Israel is not recognizing him in an effort to extort his support for the controversial lease of Church land to Jewish groups in east Jerusalem, a church official said yesterday. Patriarch Theophilos III has sued Israel to recognize his authority and will not approve the land deal, signed during his predecessor’s tenure, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. The long-term leases enraged the Church’s predominantly Palestinian flock because they strengthened the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as capital of a future state. Church tradition requires Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan to approve a new patriarch. Israel, which wants Theophilos to back the leases, has not approved his appointment. The previous patriarch, Irenaios, was ousted in May amid allegations he leased the land to Jewish groups for 198 years. The patriarch told Haaretz that he discussed the status of the land with the Israeli minister overseeing Jerusalem affairs, Tzahi Hanegbi, but the two had not reached agreement. Israeli officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Theophilos’s accusation. Property dealings are highly sensitive to the Greek Orthodox Church, which is one of the major land owners in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and thus has influence far beyond its 40,000-member flock. Among the Church’s high-profile holdings are historic buildings in the Old City, prime real estate in Jerusalem and the site of some Israeli government buildings. After the leases in east Jerusalem were publicized earlier this year, pressure mounted for Irenaios to cancel them or resign.