Following the Israeli government's decision to allow a small group of Muslim fundamentalists to build a mosque in the centre of Nazareth - church leaders issued the following statement last night: We, the leaders of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land, are alarmed by recent developments on the ground, and once more urgently demand that the government of Israel revoke without further delay its decision to build a mosque on State land in front of the Shrine of the Annunciation in Nazareth. This government project contradicts the original plan made by the Arab Mayor of Nazareth, Tawfiq Zayad to beautify the city in preparation for the year 2000. That plan designated the same State-owned land for a public square, a pleasant place of meeting for the city's Christian and Muslim inhabitants, and for the gathering of the pilgrims, facilitating their access to the Shrine. It is this plan that we are demanding the government to respect and to implement. We are surprised and distressed to see that promises and assurances given us by government representatives have not been honoured, and that the requests, appeals and protests of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land and throughout the world have been treated with virtual contempt. The mosque the government approves to build is not welcome to the Muslim religious and national authorities themselves, either in the Holy Land or elsewhere in the world. The government approves and encourages the building of an unneeded mosque right in front of one of the holiest Shrines of Christendom - to which access is already all too difficult and uncertain is an ill-advised plan of certain Israeli political circles, who are making use of a marginal group of Muslims in order to sow division between Christians and Muslims in Israel, and among Muslims themselves. We specifically recall that leading authorities in the Muslim world have warned against this, even as they have expressed their criticism of this project, and of its divisive intent and effect, and their solidarity with us. We know for certain that a great majority of our Jewish friends, in Israel and elsewhere, are also firmly opposed to this incomprehensible government decision. It is evident that we wholeheartedly support every just expectation of Muslims in Israel to see their right to religious freedom fully respected. We know that there are dozens of ruined, or semi-ruined, mosques and Muslim cemeteries in Israel that Muslim movements and associations seek to restore, and we suggest that the government, before initiating an unnecessary new mosque right in front of the Shrine of the Annunciation, permit first of all Israeli Muslims to restore their damaged religious heritage, and to take control directly in of the Muslim religious property now in government hands. We know that our Jewish friends would be deeply concerned about the destructive effects that the government decision for Nazareth could have on the fruits of decades of hard work to build up and expand the Jewish-Christian dialogue. We are therefore particularly confident in appealing for support of Jewish religious leaders and Jewish organizations, in Israel and world-wide. We feel obliged to observe that, if the Israeli authorities abuse their governmental powers to manipulate people's religious sentiments, to divide the population, to create conflict, to foment intolerant fundamentalism, then they cannot credibly claim that they can be trusted to respect any religion's Holy Places in their jurisdiction, whether in Nazareth or elsewhere. Indeed, we recall that UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947 foresaw international guarantees for all Holy Places throughout the Holy Land. As the present case proves, such guarantees may now be more necessary than ever. Finally, we renew our appeal with a greater sense of urgency than ever, to the government of Israel to revoke a decision that may have incalculable consequences on many levels, and we are asking all Christians and Muslims throughout the world to join us in this effort, and to do so now. Patriarch Irenios I: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Patriarch Michel Sabbah: Latin Patriarchate. Patriarch Torkom II: Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate. Fr Giovanni Battistelli: Custody of the Holy Land. Anba Abraham: Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. Bishop Swerios Malki Mourad: Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate. Abba Cuostos: Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate Bishop Paul Nabil Sayyah: Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate. Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal: Episcopal Church of Jerusalem & the Middle East. Bishop Mounib Younan: Lutheran Evangelical Church. Archimandrite Mtanious Haddad: Greek Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate. Bishop Andre Dikran Bedoghlyan: Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate. Fr Elias Tabban: Syrian Catholic Patriarchate.
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