Subj:  AFP: Christians suggest Interfaith Centre for Nazareth
Date: 10/19/99 11:32:51 AM Pacific Daylight Time

Christians suggest Interfaith Centre for Nazareth to defuse dispute with

     JERUSALEM, Oct 19 (AFP) - Palestinian Christians made a bid Tuesday
     to defuse a bitter dispute with Muslims in Nazareth over the siting
     of a new mosque, by calling for the establishment of an "interfaith
     centre for peace dialogue" in the city.
     "There should be places of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians
     in the centre, which would encourage ecumenical dialogue," an
     official of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem told AFP.
     An acrimonious dispute has flared up between Nazareth's Muslim and
     Christian communities over a piece of land next to one of
     Christendom's holiest sites, the Church of the Annunciation.
     The city's Christian mayor, Ramiz Jeraisy, has angered Islamic
     activists with plans for a large plaza next to the church to
     accommodate the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims expected to visit
     it during the millennium year.
     The Muslims say the land belongs to them, and they want to build a
     mosque on it. The Israeli government last week gave permission for
     the construction of a small mosque, but ordered that it should wait
     until the end of the millennium celebrations.
     The row has cast a shadow over a planned millennium pilgrimage to
     the Holy Land by Pope John Paul II.
     The Patriarchate, which represents the Roman Catholic church in
     Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said it submitted its
     proposal for an interfaith centre to Israel's public security and
     tourism ministers last week.
     "The pope would be happy to inaugurate such a centre," the official
     "We are not against the construction of a mosque on principle, but
     we believe the feelings of Christians should be respected, and the
     church should remain a symbol of dialogue," he said.
     He added that since the establishment of the state of Israel in
     1948, 12 mosques had been built in the city, and not a single
     The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, sent a letter to
     Israeli President Ezer Weizman on behalf of all the Christian
     churches of Jerusalem, asking for a meeting to discuss the Nazareth
     dispute and the preparations for the millennium celebrations, the
     official said.
     "This meeting with Mr Weizman will probably take place on November
     1," he said.
     Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel and is where, according
     to Christian tradition, Jesus spent his childhood.
     The giant Church of the Annunciation covers the site where the
     angel Gabriel told Mary that she had been chosen by God to bear