Newly restored shrine at Jesus’ tomb reopened in Jerusalem


The ornate shrine surrounding what is believed to be Jesus’ tomb was reopened at a ceremony in Jerusalem on Wednesday (March 22) following nine months of delicate restoration work.

Religious leaders opened the ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

Centuries of candle smoke and visiting pilgrims had left the 19th-century ornate edicule or shrine discoloured and almost black.

Parts of it were also coming loose, with warnings that it was structurally unsound and posed a risk to the millions of pilgrims who visit the site every year.

Israeli authorities briefly closed it in 2015 over security fears.

Following a US$3.7 million (S$5.1 million) renovation led by the church’s three main Christian denominations, the tomb has been painstakingly restored to its former glory – including a warm reddish-yellow colouring.

“Before this the monument was black,” chief renovator Antonia Moropoulou told AFP at the site. “This is the actual colour of the monument, the colour of hope.”

Unlike other parts of the church, which were renovated between the 1960s and 1990s, the edicule had been neglected.

Mr Moropoulou explained that they had systematically dismantled, cleaned and renovated almost all of the edicule, including the columns and upper and inner domes.

A window has been installed to allow pilgrims to see the bare stone of the ancient burial cave for the first time. The new structural integrity means a protective cage installed 70 years ago by the British is no longer necessary.

“The deformations of the holy edicule are addressed and the structural integrity is assured,” Mr Moropoulou said.

Mr Samuel Aghoyan, the superior of the Armenian Church at the Sepulchre which co-financed the project, said that after the renovation the edicule looked “like a brand new building”.


In October, perhaps the most dramatic moment in the renovation occurred when the cave thought to be the tomb of Jesus was opened for the first time in centuries.

Marble slabs were removed to allow for the chamber’s reinforcement. They found a top slab dating from the era of the Crusades, indicating that the tomb had not been opened for 700 years, Mr Moropoulou said.

Underneath they found another from the era of Constantine the Great, the emperor who began the Roman empire’s transition to Christianity in the fourth century AD.

“When we opened the slabs we discovered within the internal masonry all the layers of history – from Constantinian to Byzantine, to Crusaders to Renaissance,” Mr Moropoulou said.

Whether the site is indeed the place of Jesus’s burial has long been a matter of dispute.

Some Christians believe he was buried in the Garden Tomb, outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, but Mr Moropoulou said their findings supported the Sepulchre as the location.

Asked if the slabs supported the argument that Jesus was buried there, she said it was “not a matter of an argument”.

“It is a matter of revealing a tomb which is alive and which is influencing us working here and all the world.”

The work is not the end of plans to renovate the church.

Mr Aghoyan said they have “tentative” plans to fix the basement of the edicule as well as the “entire floor of the church”.

Such work would require around US$6 million, according to estimates.

The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations share custody of the church, but disputes between the three have led to renovations being delayed for decades.

Mr Aghoyan admitted there were tensions between the churches at times. “We are not in love with each but we love each other,” he said with a smile.

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Spanish media denounces xenophobia and unjustified use of pre-trial detention

The Spanish Courts have so far ignored the request to identify the Judge of the High Court (Audiencia Provincial) of Las Palmas (Spain) who made xenophobic and offensive remarks in the courtroom during a deliberation with three other judges.

The tape of the conversation taking place between judges Salvador Alba, Emilio Moya and Carlos Vielba was uncovered by Spanish newspaper Canarias 7. The audio log, containing racial slurs against citizens of Russia, Italy and Romania among others, and misogynic expressions is publicly available, and was aired on Spanish national TV stations.

Despite the media outcry, the Spanish Ministry of Justice has so far taken no steps to remove or otherwise sanction the involved judges. Furthermore, it has even ignored the request, lodged by the Consulate of Russian Federation in Las Palmas, to identify the judge who made the offensive remarks.

During an interview on aired Spanish National Television (TVE), Mr. Jose Antonio Penichet, the attorney of the Consulate, raised the question of whether the xenophobic attitude of Las Palmas judiciary is to blame for a flagrantly unjust treatment of the family of Spanish entrepreneur of Russian-Jewish origins, also known as “The Kokorev Case”. Vladimir Kokorev, as well as his wife and son, remain in pre-trial detention in Las Palmas (Spain) on unclear charges and without access to the case file for already over 18 months, with no expectation of a trial or even a formal accusation.

The pre-trial detention is ostensibly motivated by the judge Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano by “high flight risk”, which decisions have been confirmed by the High Court of Las Palmas.

Mr. Penichet argued that Vladimir Kokorev and his family members, with no prior convictions or criminal records, had voluntarily consented the extradition to Las Palmas from Panama, where they remained on bail for several months without any attempts to escape. Furthermore, Vladimir Kokorev (66) had suffered serious medical problems in the past years: a heart attack, minor stroke and prostate cancer. Those medical issues, are further exacerbated by over a year and a half in prison.

“I am confident that if Vladimir had a Spanish family name, he would have not suffer the same treatment,” said Mr. Penichet.

EU reporter 


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Kagame hails Rwanda-Israel bond at AIPAC


Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame became the first African leader to address Washington’s biggest pro-Israel forum Sunday, hailing the Jewish state as an inspiration for his own country’s rebirth after genocide.

Kagame was commander of the rebel force that put an end to the 1994 slaughter of Rwandan Tutsis by Hutu extremists and has led the country since 2000, as it recovers from the conflict and becomes a regional economic success story.

In Washington to attend the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he hailed the success of the State of Israel after the horrors of the Holocaust and pledged Rwanda’s friendship.

“The security of peoples who have once been targeted for extermination can never be exclusively physical,” Kagame told the delegates, who received him with warm applause.

“Until all ideologies which justify killing as a patriotic duty are defeated our world is not truly safe. Not for us, not for anyone.”

Israel’s relations with African governments have not always been easy.

“Together with friends like the United States, we must call for renewed global solidarity against the reckless efforts to deny genocide and to trivialize the victims,” he said.

“Israel has the right to exist and thrive as a full member the international community. This is not an infringement of the rights of any other people,” he declared.

Rwanda’s friendship with Israel is also a diplomatic boon for both countries, which have both relied on strong US support but have also tried the patience of Washington’s foreign policy establishment in recent years.

Under former president Barack Obama, the United States expressed concern at what they saw as an authoritarian drift in Kagame’s rule and in particular a 2015 reform to the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.

The White House also sparred with Netanyahu’s government, warning that settlement construction put the Middle East peace process in jeopardy.

In 2014, when Rwanda sat on the United Nations Security Council, Kigali abstained from a resolution that advocated for the end of Israel’s presence in the West Bank but was ultimately rejected.

US President Donald Trump’s new administration has so far proved more sympathetic to Israel’s ambitions, and both Rwanda and Israel hope for warm relations.

Speaking to AIPAC before Kagame, Israeli’s ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer said: “For the first time in years there is no daylight between our governments.”

Israel insists a peace deal with the Palestinians can only come through direct negotiations between the parties, without outside diplomatic pressure, a position that Kagame fully endorsed.

Some African political movements saw their own struggles against colonial rule reflected in the Palestinian fight for statehood — and many remember Israel’s military support for South Africa’s former apartheid regime.

But Israel has an active diplomatic engagement on the continent and has won friends through economic and technical cooperation with major players like Rwanda.

Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured four African countries — including Rwanda — and in October he is expected to meet around 30 leaders at an Israel-Africa summit in Togo.

Kagame visited Israel in 2008 and made clear at AIPAC that he sees the country as a friend and ally, rejecting what he sees as efforts in some quarters to delegitimatize Israeli statehood.


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Israel president Reuven Rivlin refuses to pardon jailed former PM Ehud Olmert


Israeli President Reuven Rivlin today rejected a request for clemency by jailed ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is serving a 27-month prison sentence for corruption, his office said. Olmert, who was premier between 2006-2009, was convicted of graft and entered prison in February 2016.

The president noted that the grounds for the request — including Olmert’s contributions to Israel over the years — were known to the court when it sentenced the former prime minister. Rivlin also said in a statement that Olmert was due to face a parole committee, which would discuss his request to have his sentence shortened by a third.

If the parole board shortens Olmert’s sentence, Rivlin said he could consider a pardon that would allow the 71-year-old to avoid being considered a convict after he is released. Olmert is Israel’s first former premier to serve jail time. He resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police recommended he be indicted for graft, but remained in office until March 2009, when Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in to the post, which he has held ever since.

Olmert won international acclaim for relaunching peace efforts with the Palestinians at the Annapolis conference in the United States in 2007, but they failed to bear fruit and the corruption charges against him have come to define his legacy.

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Jewish youth arrested in Israel over anti-Semitic threats abroad AFP


A Jewish youth was arrested in Israel on Thursday on suspicion of making dozens of anti-Semitic threats in countries around the world, police said.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the suspect was “a resident of the south (of Israel) from the Jewish community”.

Police said the suspect was 19, but gave no further identifying details. Israeli media said he was a dual Israeli-US national.

“The investigation began in several countries at the same time, in which dozens of threatening calls were received at public places, events, synagogues and community buildings that caused panic and disrupted events and activities in various organisations,” a police statement said.

It said that the investigation was undertaken in cooperation with the FBI “as well as other police organisations from various countries.”

Israeli authorities did not directly link the arrest with a wave of more than 100 bomb threats against US Jewish organisations since the beginning of the year.

“We hope that this investigation will help shed light on some of the recent threats against Jewish institutions, which have caused great concern both among Jewish communities and the Israeli government,” Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement. AFP

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Jews, Israelis fear fallout from bomb hoax arrest


Israel’s arrest of a Jewish teenager accused of masterminding dozens of anti-Semitic threats could encourage racism and ease pressure on US President Donald Trump to tackle anti-Semitism, Jewish groups have warned.

Far-right groups claimed vindication that attacks previously blamed on rightwingers and alleged hatred resulting from Trump’s election may actually have been carried out by a young Jewish American Israeli.

Jewish organisations and Israeli media said the arrest was likely to boost conspiracy theories, while others worried it would weaken responses to a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the US.

More details emerged Friday about the suspect, who holds dual Israeli American citizenship, though identifying details are subject to a gag order.

He was arrested Thursday in Israel and accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, including one against a major airline.

His lawyer said he is 18 and suffers a brain tumour that may cloud his judgement.

His health prevented him attending public school or doing mandatory military service, she said.

Over the past two to three years, Israeli police said he carried out a series of hoax threats from his family home in southern Israel.

In February 2015, he is alleged to have made a bomb threat against Delta Airlines, forcing a plane to carry out an emergency landing.

“In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off,” one of the threats read, according to a recording obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said Friday the net started to tighten after a threat in New Zealand in 2016, with police identifying the IP address as originating from Israel.

Using an antenna, the suspect allegedly accessed other people’s computers to commit the crimes, the newspaper said, leading police to question a number of innocent suspects before eventually netting him.

His alleged motive remains unknown.

His father has also been arrested, with their next court hearing set for March 30.

- Jewish threats -

The discussion Friday turned to the impact of the arrests, with Trump’s response to anti-Semitism at the forefront.

More than 150 threats have been carried out against Jewish institutions in America since the start of the year. At some locations swastikas were scrawled on walls and cemeteries desecrated.

It is not known what percentage of the threats the teenager is alleged to have been involved with.

Trump received significant criticism from Jewish Americans for his perceived slow response to the uptick.

He even suggested some of the threats might be false to discredit his movement.

He later explicitly condemned anti-Semitic threats.

Trump-supporting far-right websites hailed the arrest in Israel as well as a hoax case in the United States, where the FBI in early March arrested a former journalist suspected of making bomb threats to Jewish community centres and institutions.

He was allegedly cyberstalking an ex-girlfriend, using her name to make the threats.

The Daily Stormer, a prominent anti-Semitic website that had long alleged such threats were a Jewish plot, has claimed vindication.

Alt-right website Breitbart News, formerly run by Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, also saw vindication, but for Trump.

“When the president suggested that some of the anti-Semitic hate crimes could be hoaxes, the (leftwing) Huffington Post claimed he was echoing ‘white nationalists and far-right conspiracy theorists,’” it wrote.

“However, the arrests thus far suggest that most of the threats were indeed hoaxes.”

“The US Jewish leadership owes @POTUS an apology,” Marc Zell, vice-president of Republicans Overseas, tweeted.

US Jewish organisations have tried to downplay the political fallout, saying the arrest did not end legitimate fears.

“No arrests have been made in three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers,” the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

But Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, told The Jerusalem Post the arrest in Israel posed a risk “that people won’t take the ongoing concerns seriously”.

In the Jewish state, newspapers and officials were shocked by the arrest.

“The outcome of this young man?s actions is that the classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theory will be given a tailwind — the Jews portray themselves as victims but are orchestrating the supposed attacks,” an article in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper said.

A representative of a major global Jewish organisation, who did not want to be named, told AFP that Trump’s false flag claim would gain traction.

“Those sort of statements that everyone thought were totally outlandish at the time now sound somewhat more reasonable.” AFP

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Palestinian Woman Attempts Car-Ramming Terror Attack at Israeli Bus Stop


A female Palestinian attempted to ram a car into security forces at a tense junction in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday and was shot and wounded, Israel’s military said.

No injuries were reported on the Israeli side following the incident at the Gush Etzion Junction south of Jerusalem. The Palestinian’s condition was not yet clear, nor were details on her identity or age.

A wave of violence that broke out in October 2015 has killed 255 Palestinians, 40 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national, according to an AFP count.

Most of the Palestinians who lost their lives were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to the Israeli authorities.

Others were killed during protests, in clashes or Israeli air raids on Gaza.

Violence has greatly subsided in recent months, despite sporadic attacks. afp

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