• ISRAEL \ Aug 22, 2002
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    Police arrest senior Greek Orthodox Church official
Police arrest senior Greek Orthodox Church official Atallah Hanna was taken from his home in the Old City to the Jerusalem district police headquarters. He was detained for questioning, following an order by Attorney General Elyakim Rubenstein.

Hanna is suspected of attempting to meet with heads of terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah spirutal leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, and of praising suicide attacks in comments published by the media in East Jerusalem.

Christian and Muslim leaders called for Hanna's immediate release, calling the detention a violation of the right to religious freedom and free speech.

Israel is embroiled in a dispute with the Greek Orthodox Church and has refused to recognize the church's patriarch for the Holy Land, Eireneos I, who was elected a year ago.

Under Holy Land traditions going back centuries, a new patriarch has to be vetted by the rulers of the areas where his flock lives - in Eireneos' case Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Without the recognition, the patriarch cannot represent the church in dealings with the host country. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority recognized Eireneos shortly after his election.

Church officials say one of the reasons for the dispute with Israel is the patriarch's refusal to meet Israeli demands to fire Hanna, whom Israel considers to be close to the Palestinian Authority. Israel and the Greek Orthodox Church are also at odds over some of the vast land holdings of the Jerusalem patriarchate. Some of the land had been leased to Israel, and the church refuses to extend the leases.

Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said Hanna was being questioned on suspicion of showing support for terrorist organizations and for illegally entering Lebanon and Syria. "He made statements on television in those countries showing support for terror organizations and for attacks against Israeli civilians," Kleiman said.

Israel also believes that Hanna called on Christians to participate in the Palestinian uprising, according to Israel Radio.

Kleiman said Hanna holds Israeli citizenship and that Israelis are not allowed to enter neighboring Lebanon and Syria, with whom Israel is technically still at war.

Marwan Toubasi, the spokesman of the Greek Orthodox community in the West Bank, said Hanna's detention was "part of the Israeli attacks on the religious freedom for Christian and Muslim religious men."

"(It is) an attempt to silence the voice that expresses the pains of his community which is part of the Palestinian people," he said.

Sheik Ikrema Sabri, the top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem and a close associate of Hanna said: "There are a lot of Israeli rabbis who have extreme opinions against Arabs and the Palestinians and they have been never detained by the Israeli police