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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 May, 2005, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Jerusalem clergy dump patriarch
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineos I
The Patriarch rejected calls for his resignation but has now been ostracised
Greek Orthodox Church leaders in Jerusalem have broken off contact with Patriarch Irineos, and say they regard him as dismissed.

The move stems from a dispute over the sale of church land in East Jerusalem, which has angered Palestinians.

In a letter, 13 bishops accuse Patriarch Irineos of being caught up in a web of lying, distortion and of mishandling church property.

Patriarch Irineos has denied any wrongdoing.

He is the religious head of 100,000 Christians in the Holy Land, most of them Palestinian.

The land at the heart of the dispute was allegedly sold to a group linked to Jewish settlers, sparking outrage among Palestinians.

'Falsehoods'

In a two-page letter to a news agency in Jerusalem, church leaders said they had decided to "strip Irineos I of his duties as patriarch in the Holy Land, no longer work with him and considered him persona non grata in the Church".

They said he was "incorrigibly caught up in a syndrome of lying, religious distortion, degradation of the patriarchate's role, and irresponsible mishandling of patriarchate property".

At the centre of the dispute is the sale of church property inside Jerusalem's old city to an unknown buyer, alleged to be an Israeli organisation which supports Jewish settlement of occupied land.

The sale, though legal, has provoked the church's mainly Palestinian followers.

Delicate balance

It is also seen as upsetting the delicate balance of ownership between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the old city.

The patriarch has said he never agreed to the sale but there is speculation that one of his deputies may have signed the deal on his behalf.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1981, but its claim to the area is not recognised internationally.

Under international law East Jerusalem is considered to be occupied territory.

The majority of its residents are Palestinian, and Palestinians hope to make it their future capital.


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