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Jerusalemites chafe as Russians resume control of Sergei Courtyard

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  • emrys@globe.net.nz
    w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m Last update - 05:37 26/02/2009 Jerusalemites chafe as Russians resume control of Sergei Courtyard By Nir Hasson After more than
    Message 1 of 3 , Mar 1, 2009
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      w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

      Last update - 05:37 26/02/2009


      Jerusalemites chafe as Russians resume control of Sergei Courtyard
      By Nir Hasson


      After more than 100 years, the Russians have returned to Sergei Courtyard.
      Senior members of the Russian parliament and Eastern Orthodox Church have
      begun arriving at the site to begin renovation work as the structure reverts
      from Israeli to Russian control.


      The renovations have been fiercely criticized by organizations whose offices
      are located in the building, as well as by the Jerusalem Municipality.


      The site was constructed in 1890 for the benefit of pilgrims from czarist
      Russia, and for years was one of the city's most lavish lodgings for
      pilgrims and aristocrats. Following World War I, it passed to the hands of
      British Mandate authorities, and then to Israel.


      In recent years the Kremlin has demanded its return, claiming it was
      acquired illegally. In October Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced it would
      be returned as a goodwill gesture, following Knesset approval of the move
      and a High Court rejection of a petition against the transfer.


      The first stage of the handover involves Russia's receiving full authority
      over one wing of the courtyard, the area where renovation began this week,
      and talks will eventually be held over the future of the site as a whole.
      Organizations that currently have offices in the building - the Agriculture
      Ministry, Parks and Nature Authority and Society for the Protection of
      Nature in Israel - fear they will be forced to leave.


      "Our principal concern is that the courtyard remains open to the public
      despite coming under Russian ownership. It's not only our offices there -
      the courtyard was used as the center of a wide array of activities for
      Jerusalem residents," says Pazit Shavid, manager of the SPNI branch in the
      capital.


      Meanwhile, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wrote to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
      calling for maintaining the status quo over public access to the site. "Tens
      of thousands of visitors come to the site annually, due to the efforts of
      the SPNI, a situation that must be protected at all costs," he wrote.


      Barkat also expressed concern that other countries with links to property in
      Jerusalem might seek to assert control over them. He also requested that a
      representative from his office participate in talks with Russian authorities
      over the courtyard.



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