Armenian Church Says Land Dispute With Israel Settled

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Israeli government and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem have effectively resolved their dispute over Armenian church land in the West Bank seized by the Israeli army earlier this year–the Church’s Etchmiadzin headquarters said on Thursday.

"The ongoing negotiations between the Israeli government and the Patriarchate have found a solution and an appropriate agreement is presently in the works," the office of Catholicos Karekin II said in a statement. It gave no details of the impending settlement.

The dispute centers on the 20-hectare olive grove near Bethlehem–known as Baron Der. The property has belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church for nearly four centuries–serving as a summer retreat for its Jerusalem clergy. The property was seized by Israeli troops last Spring for the construction of a long security fence designed to protect Israel against attacks by Palestinian militants.

The move drew strong protests from the Armenian church–the government in Yerevan and Armenian Diaspora communities. Christian leaders from around the world–including Pope John Paul II–have also voiced concern.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem said late last month that the Israeli authorities have agreed to relocate the fence along the south side of Baron Der–rather than build it down the center. But he said the two sides have still to agree on some other issues–including compensation for the damage to the property.

The matter was discussed last week by the Armenian and Israeli foreign ministers at a meeting in New York–held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

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