By Emil DanielyanThe governments of Armenia and Israel have found a final solution to a dispute over Armenian church land in the West Bank seized by the Israeli army earlier this year, according to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The Russian Interfax news agency quoted church officials in Echmiadzin as saying on Thursday that the Israeli government has abandoned plans to use the Baron Der property near Bethlehem for the construction of a security wall to protect Israel against attacks by Palestinian militants.
An unnamed spokesman for Catholicos Garegin II told the agency that the decision was made after talks earlier this week between Israeli officials and the visiting Armenian deputy foreign minister, Ruben Shugarian. "Following talks with an Armenian Foreign Ministry delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Ruben Shugarian, the Israeli Cabinet has agreed to move the construction of a security wall elsewhere and reinstate that area to the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem," the official said.
The 20-hectare olive grove has belonged to the Armenian Patriarchate for nearly 400 hundreds, serving as a summer retreat for its Holy Land clergy. A tentative agreement to end its de facto confiscation, denounced by the Armenian and other churches, was announced by Garegin’s office in late September. The issue was discussed by the Armenian and Israeli foreign ministers in New York shortly before that.
The church official cited by Interfax said that Israel has also agreed to compensate material damage caused to Baron Der by its forces. The Israeli army had reportedly dug a deep trench across the property and built a patrol road for military jeeps on one side. About 300 of the land’s 1,900 olive trees were bulldozed in the process.