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By Emil Danielyan

The U.S. National Council of the Churches of Christ (NCCC), which represents America’s leading Christian denominations, reiterated Saturday its criticism of Israel’s seizure of a plot of land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Meeting with Catholicos Garegin II in Echmiadzin, the union’s president, Robert Edgar, and other top U.S. clerics expressed concern at the continuing Israeli occupation of an ancient olive grove that has been owned by Jerusalem’s Armenian Patriarchate for the past four centuries. Edgar was quoted by Garegin’s press office as saying that the NCCC will continue to support the Armenian church in the dispute.

In a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon earlier this month, the New York-based organization representing some 50 million Americans protested that "this violation does not bode well for other religious minorities residing in Israel."

The 20-hectare (50 acres) property, known as Baron Der, has served as a summer retreat for the Armenian clergy of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Israeli government has reportedly decided to use the land for a planned 350-kilometer security wall between Israel and the West Bank.

The Jerusalem patriarchate, backed by the Armenian government, sued the Israeli army last month and is still awaiting a verdict of the country’s Supreme Court. The foreign ministry in Yerevan told RFE/RL earlier that the Israeli government promised to postpone a final decision on using the Armenian church land until a court ruling.

Also adding its voice to Armenian protests was the American Jewish Committee, an influential pro-Israeli advocacy group. The committee wrote to Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on August 5, urging him to be “mindful of [Armenian] concerns within the context of the compelling needs of safety for all Israelis.”

The visiting delegation of the National Council of Churches comprises representatives of the U.S. dioceses of the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic and Protestant churches that are affiliated with the umbrella organization. Edgar said that the trip is aimed at strengthening the council’s ties with Armenia’s dominant church.
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