JERUSALEM ( - Catholic Latin-rite Patriarch
Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem on Monday voiced his opposition
to an Israeli plan to allow Muslims to build a mosque on
disputed land next to the Church of the Annunciation in

The patriarch met with Tourism Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak
on Monday and was expected to meet with Public Security
Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami on Tuesday to discuss the
situation. Lipkin-Shahak's office was working on preparing
the country for an expected influx of pilgrims for the
Jubilee Year, while Ben-Ami was mediating the land dispute
between Christians and Muslims in Nazareth.

Muslims claim that land next to the church belongs to the
local Islamic religious trust and should be used for a new
mosque, while Christians dispute that claim and want the
area for a new Venetian-style millennium plaza. The dispute
came to blows after Easter, with cars and businesses being
stoned and leaving some people injured.

Father Claudio Barato, a senior official in the
patriarchate, said Christians will react harshly if the
mosque is built. He did not rule out a Christmas closure of
Nazareth churches in protest -- at the height of millennium
celebrations. "If they (the Muslims) are stern in their
position to build a mosque, we are in a position to think
about closing (the churches). We feel pushed to react in
this way," Father Barato said.

Patriarch Sabbah also called on Israel to life regulations
hindering access to shrines for pilgrims and Palestinians
as the Jubilee Year approaches. "We ask for total and free
access to all the Holy Places for both local and universal
visitors and pilgrims," he said, referring to East
Jerusalem and Bethlehem, areas most affected by Israeli
security measures. "Often, under security restrictions
during Jewish holiday periods, Jerusalem is closed to buses
carrying non-Jews, causing difficulty for both pilgrims and
Palestinians," said a spokesman.