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Last Updated: Monday, 30 May, 2005, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Jerusalem clergy appoint new head
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineos I
The Patriarch is resisting attempts to oust him
Leaders of Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Church have appointed a temporary substitute for its embattled patriarch.

Archbishop Cornelios takes over from Patriarch Irineos, who is entangled in a row over the sale of church land in East Jerusalem to Jewish investors.

Palestinians, who want to hold on to the land in case of a final peace deal with Israel, fear the land could be used to build a Jewish settlement.

Patriarch Irineos has denied any wrongdoing and has refused to resign.

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

The Patriarchate's chief secretary said Archbishop Cornelios would assume the Patriarch's duties until a permanent replacement was found.

'Palestinian capital'

However, Patriarch Irineos continues to call himself patriarch even though his clergy has voted him out of office and the Orthodox Church's highest authority, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, voted to stop recognising him last week.

At the centre of the dispute is the sale of land owned by the Greek Orthodox Church situated just inside Jerusalem's Old City.

Christian Palestinians living there hope that if a peace deal with Israel is agreed, it will form part of a future Palestinian capital.

The concern is that the new owners may attempt to create a Jewish presence in a traditionally Arab area, and impede the creation of a Palestinian-controlled zone.

Patriarch Irineos, who is said to be trying to revoke the sale, has said he never agreed to the transaction but there is speculation that one of his deputies may have signed the deal on his behalf.

Greek Orthodox Church leaders have stripped the patriarch of his duties and consider him "persona non grata in the Church".

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says that legally, church leaders cannot dismiss the Patriarch - that can only be done by the governments of areas where his congregation lives.

In the meantime, she says, it seems Jerusalem will have two Greek Orthodox Patriarchs - practically if not officially.

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