Occupation of Chrisitian Quarter Upsets Jewish-christian Relations

The reserved but generally cooperative relations between Jews and Christians in Jerusalem were stirred to the boiling point by the occupation of a housing complex in the heart of the Old City’s Christian Quarter by 150 Orthodox Jews, who say they purchased it legally.

The Greek Orthodox Church says it is the rightful owner and never sold the property.

While the dispute is before the courts, tempers are rising on both sides.

Two tourists were slightly injured by stones thrown at their bus on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem on Sunday. Protest riots broke out in Nablus in the West Bank.

There were also ramifications overseas.

Noting pointedly that Jerusalem is sacred to Moslems, Jews and Christians alike, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday, “We think that all parties are well advised to demonstrate mutual toleration and to refrain from provocative actions.”

Statements critical of the settlers were issued over the weekend by the American Jewish Congress in New York and by B’nai B’rith International in Washington.

The authorities here insist the controversy is neither religious nor political, but rather a matter for adjudication by the courts. The Jerusalem District Court will decide Tuesday on a date to hear the church’s complaint.

(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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