PA gives West Bank land to Moscow


Russia gained control of three plots of land in the West Bank city of Jericho at a ceremony in Moscow.

As part of agreement reached during a recent visit of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Hassan Saleh, the mayor of Jericho, on Monday handed over ownership for a tract that is home to a sycamore tree mentioned in the Gospel of Luke and two other plots in an area known as Moscovia, the state-run news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

The land was given over to Sergey Stepashin, chairman of Russia’s Audit Chamber and head of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, an organization set up under Tsarist rule to administer Russian sites in the Holy Land.

The Jericho deal is one of several efforts by Russia to gain a religiously symbolic foothold in Israel and the West Bank.

The Russian Orthodox Church is also pressing for reacquisition of two buildings in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound – St. Sergius Church and the Ecclesiastical Mission.

Israel’s Russian ambassador, Anna Azari, said last month that she expected an agreement to transfer those buildings to the Russian church could be finalized this summer.

Last month, the Imperial Society gained ownership of a plot of land in Bethlehem and there are plans to open a school there.

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