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Custodian to most sacred Christian site in Jerusalem refuses to meet Mike Pence over Israeli capital decision

Keeper of keys at Church of the Holy Sepulchre will not extend welcome to Vice President when he makes official visit to city

Tom Barnes
Thursday 14 December 2017 10:25 GMT
Mr Pence is due to visit Jerusalem later this week
Mr Pence is due to visit Jerusalem later this week (Getty)

The guardian of the most sacred site in Christianity has refused to meet US Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Jerusalem next week.

Adeeb Joudeh, the custodian of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, will not welcome Mr Pence if he chooses to make an official trip to the Old City.

Mr Joudeh, a practising Muslim, said his decision was in protest against President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In a statement released this week, he said: “It has come to our attention that Vice President Pence intends to make an official visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and asked me to receive him officially.

“I absolutely refuse to officially welcome the American Vice President Mr. Mike Pence at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and I will not be physically in church during his visit.

“This is an expression of my condemnation of President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains the two holiest sites in Christianity, the place Jesus Christ was crucified and the empty tomb where he is said to have been buried and resurrected.

Muslim families have been tasked with opening and closing the shrine since at least the 16th Century as part of an agreement by the three Abrahamic faiths aimed at maintaining the fragile balance between religious groups in Jerusalem.

Representatives for Mr Pence denied a visit to the church was ever on the agenda for the Vice President, who was born into a Catholic family and now identifies as an evangelical Christian.

His press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said on Twitter Mr Pence’s office had not extended an offer to visit the holy site.

A senior church official played down the weight of Mr Joudeh’s statement.

He told the Times of Israel: “We didn’t receive any formal or informal request and if there is a request, there is a status quo procedure to respect involving the three communities.

“It is not up to one of the key keepers to decide anything about this kind of issue.”

Mr Trump’s decision last Wednesday to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has raised tensions in the city and across the Middle East.

The move has been hailed in Israel but widely condemned by Arab countries and the US’s western European allies.

Protests in the West Bank led to clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian demonstrators, in which at least two demonstrators were killed and hundreds injured.

Lebanese security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators outside the US embassy in Beirut on Sunday, while the Arab League has called on Mr Trump to reverse his decision.

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