Abbas issues decree to oust Irineos I

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday issued a decree to withdraw recognition from the embattled Greek Orthodox patriarch, who has been embroiled in a battle over Jerusalem land deals with Israelis that have angered Palestinians.
The Palestinian decree further weakens the position of the patriarch, Irineos I, who has been resisting efforts by church officials to oust him. The patriarch’s appointment must be backed by three entities — Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Jordan ordered his dismissal several weeks ago, but Israel has not taken a stand.

Irineos has been under fire for his alleged role in the contentious deals, in which church property in Jerusalem was leased to Jewish groups. Irineos has denied involvement in the transactions, and has refused to recognise a decision by church rebels to fire him.

Palestinians object to transfer of land in East Jerusalem to Israelis. Palestinians claim that part of the city as the capital of the state they hope to establish.

The decree signed by Abbas stated: “We have decided to issue a decree to dismiss Irineos I from his position as the patriarch of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and to revoke all rights and privileges which go with this position.” The decree was published by the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA. Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Samir Hleileh said the acting patriarch, Cornelios, on Wednesday gave the Palestinian Authority a power of attorney to file suit in an Israeli court to cancel the land deals.

Earlier Wednesday, Irineos, backed by a group of guards, retook control of his office in the church compound Wednesday, police said, setting off a fistfight.

Opponents tried to stop him from entering areas of the compound that had been off limits to him for some time, but police interceded, said police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby.

Archbishop Innocentios, one of the clergy who opposes Irineos, said the patriarch later returned to his living quarters in the compound.

Irineos could not immediately be reached for comments.

For the past few months, Irineos has been embroiled in a controversy over the long-term leasing of choice church property to groups trying to expand the Jewish presence in disputed Jerusalem.

Reports of the leases have aroused the furore of the Palestinians who make up most of the flock. Palestinians claim the eastern sector of Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and deplore Jewish encroachment there.

Clerics at the patriarchate and other world Orthodox leaders have stopped recognising the authority of Irineos as a result of the affair. However, Irineos continues to resist demands that he step aside, saying a former aide signed the leases without his knowledge.

Innocentios said that despite the move, the rebels would not allow Irineos to fulfil his clerical duties.

“From an ecclesiastical point of view it is finished for us,” Innocentios said.

During the scuffles, one police officer was lightly wounded and two people were detained for attacking the officers, Ben-Ruby said.

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