The Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopened Wednesday following a three-day standoff between Christian churches in Jerusalem and the government over the issue of unpaid back taxes for church-owned commercial properties in the capital.
The three-day standoff ended at 4 a.m., when church custodians arrived to open the huge wooden doors for a group of worshipers.
In announcing the interim agreement Tuesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the Jerusalem Municipality and Knesset would suspend efforts to collect the unpaid taxes the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Barkat have agreed that a professional team led by Minister Hanegbi, including representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Jerusalem Municipality, will formulate a solution to the issue of municipal taxes (which do not apply to houses of worship). The team will negotiate with the representatives of the churches to resolve the issue," the statement said.
Church leaders praised the announcement and agreed to reopen the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe is the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
In a statement announcing the reopening of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christianity's holiest site, the Armenian and Greek Patriarchates, as well as the Roman Catholic Custos of the Holy Land gave thanks to God for Netanyahu's statement and said they "look[ed] forward to engag[ing] with Minister Hanegbi, and with all those who love Jerusalem to ensure that Our Holy City … remains a place where the three Monotheistic faiths may lie and thrive together."
However, following the reopening, church leaders reiterated their commitment to reach an agreement with the government, but also said they fundamentally rejected the city's claim of unpaid back taxes. They also said they fear that the Knesset wants to levy taxes on the churches themselves.
"We pay arnona (municipal taxes) on all our properties," Father Koryoun, the chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, told TPS by phone Wednesday morning. "We object to taxing churches and monasteries because they are traditionally exempt from taxation, and we have faithfully paid our taxes on commercial sites owned by the church."