22 Jan 2020 19:43

German society working at Alexander Metochion in Jerusalem not informed of property handover

BERLIN. Jan 22 (Interfax) - The German Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society has not received any notification from the Israeli authorities regarding the handover of ownership of the Alexander Metochion in Jerusalem to the Russian organization of the same name, the society's head Nikolai Vorontsov-Hofmann told Interfax on Wednesday.

"We still have no documentation, we have not been notified or visited by officials, we have not received anything like that," Vorontsov-Hofmann said.

He said that his organization had sent queries to Israeli authorities on Wednesday asking for clarification of the situation. At present, the metochion is operating as usual.

The Jerusalem Post reported earlier, citing an official document, that late last year Israel resolved the issue of the metochion's legal status in Russia's favor by handing it the rights to the site.

The Alexander Metochion is situated in the Old Town of Jerusalem, in close proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is an archeological and architectural compound standing on land bought by Russian Emperor Alexander III in 1859.

The compound was built by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society in 1896. The controversy surrounding its ownership began after the 1917 revolution. In 1918, the head of the society, Prince Alexei Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, fled Russia, as most of the society's members did at the time. Shirinsky-Shikhmatov arrived in Berlin and the society resumed its operation there.

At present, an organization of the same name also exists separately in Russia. The German society is led by Vorontsov- Hofmann, the Russian one by Sergei Stepashin, a former head of the Accounts Chamber. Currently, the metochion is occupied by Vorontsov-Hofmann's organization registered in Munich. Stepashin's organization is contesting the ownership of the metochion.

In 1992, the Russian Supreme Court approved a resolution on "the restoration of the historical name of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society." The Justice Ministry then recognized it as a successor to the Soviet Palestine Society and to the historical society.