Israeli police closes down courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre following roof collapse

(Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)Visitors stand near the newly restored Edicule, the ancient structure housing the tomb, which according to Christian belief is where Jesus's body was anointed and buried, seen at the completion of months of restoration works, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City March 20, 2017.

The courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been shut down by Israeli police after part of the roof collapsed on Friday last week while worshippers were inside.

Around 50 Christian Ethiopian worshippers were in the area where the ceiling collapsed, but no injuries had been reported.

"After the prayer and after the worshippers had left, some of the ceiling fell, causing great damage to the church, but thanks to God and His kindness there were no casualties at all," said Adeeb Joudeh Husseini, a church custodian.

Renovation work was being carried out in the part where the roof had fallen, according to Palestine News Network.

The church, which is believed to be Jesus Christ's burial site, had to be closed temporarily following the roof collapse while officials made sure that it was safe for worshippers to return.

Husseini noted that Israeli police had sealed the courtyard of the Church and work is now being carried out to repair the damaged area.

In March, a team of scientists completed restoration work that focused on the small structure above the purported burial place, known as the Edicule.

The restoration work began last year after Israeli authorities, who have controlled East Jerusalem since its capture in the 1967 Middle East war, deemed the site unsafe.

Antonia Moropoulou, who directed the work at the site, said at the time that the structure needed reinforcement and conservation, including work on drainage network for rainwater and sewage.

Custody of the fourth-century church is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, Coptic Syriac and Ethiopian Christian denominations. Disputes between the denominations over the control of the church's various sectors have caused delays on the restoration work for more than 200 years.

Earlier this month, church leaders in Jerusalem issued a rare joint statement, accusing the Israeli government of attempting to weaken the Christian faith in the Middle East.

The heads of churches from different denominations criticized Israeli lawmakers and courts following a ruling that mandates the sale of church buildings to a Jewish settler organization.

The church leaders objected to the transfer of ownership of three church buildings that belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem's Old City to the right-wing Jewish settler organization known as the Ateret Cohanim Association, which has purchased several properties in East Jerusalem. They also expressed their disapproval of a legislation that would make all church land sold to private citizens the property of the state.

"We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence," the church leaders stated.

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