The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the occupied Jerusalem says extremist Israeli groups are threatening the presence of Christians in the holy city as Israel continues assaulting places of worship.
In a column in the Times of London on Saturday, Theophilos III said he believed the aim is to drive the Christian community from al-Jerusalem Old City, which has sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
“Our presence” in Jerusalem is “under threat,” the patriarch wrote in the article, adding, “Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups.”
He went on to say that the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly “at the hands of these Zionist extremists.”
“Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation,” Theophilos said.
He further called on Jerusalem to remain a diverse “mosaic community” of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Back in December, patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem also said extremist Israeli groups are trying to drive Christians out of the holy city, arguing that Israeli authorities have failed to curb assaults against members of the religious community and desecration of their sites.
The church leaders said in a statement that Israel exhibits bias against Christians and apathy about attacks on Christian holy places and clergy, warning of the “current threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
The church leaders highlighted that since 2012, there had been “countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives.”
On Sunday, an unnamed Israeli official rejected the latest remarks as “baseless”, saying the reality on the ground for Christians was completely different from that described by the patriarch, Reuters reported.
Church groups have for some time reported attacks of vandalism at religious sites in the holy city.
In May, Israeli troops attacked Christians in the holy city as they tried to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the area.
The Israeli occupation forces “IOF” assaulted the worshippers and prevented them, including several nuns, from accessing the religious site.
The city has also recently been the scene of intensified tensions between Palestinians and Israeli troops and settlers.
Israel lays claim to the entire al-Quds, but the international community views the city’s eastern sector as occupied territory.
More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they are built on occupied land. The United Nations Security Council has condemned Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied territories in several resolutions.
Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.