Custody of Jerusalem Church Tops Russia's Israel Agenda, Kremlin Says

The Church of St. Alexander Nevsky has 'long been' at the top of Moscow's requests from Israel, spokesman says, after Bennett receives letter from Putin urging him to intervene

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The entrance to the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Jerusalem's Old City, in 2020
The entrance to the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Jerusalem's Old City, in 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

President Vladimir Putin's request for Israel to transfer a church in Jerusalem to Russian custody has "long been at the top of Russia's agenda in its relationship with Israel," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

"We expect the Israeli leadership to assist us in order to complete the process as is necessary," Peskov said, a day after Israeli officials confirmed that Putin had sent a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, requesting that he authorize transferring control of the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky to Moscow.

Israeli sources said Israel was handling the matter, but did not elaborate further.

The church, which is located in the Old City, was supposed to be handed over to Russia as part of a deal two years ago to win the release of the Israeli-American Naama Issachar, who had been detained in Russia on drug charges.

However, a Jerusalem District Court last month halted the registration process, saying it should be done only under the supervision of the Israeli government.

Just one day before the Kremlin's acknowledgement of the squabble over the church's ownership, Putin condemned Israel's escalation at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on committed to backing the Palestinians on the international stage on Monday, after Israel's vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council strained ties between the two countries.

The two leaders also discussed negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, the Kremlin said, as well as "the problems of the Middle East settlement in the context of escalating tensions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem."

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