Jordanian officials have questioned the head of the Greek Orthodox Church at the centre of allegations over a land deal with Jews in Jerusalem that has enraged Arab parishioners.
Officials said Patriarch Irineos I was summoned to Amman on Monday following mounting pressure from Jordan's parliament and Christian leaders for authorities to act by using its role as a custodian of the Jerusalem Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Interior Minister Samir Habashna met the Patriarch in Amman to investigate recent newspaper reports that he sold church land in Arab East Jerusalem to a Jewish overseas investor along with other allegations of multi-million-dollar sales of church property, the officials said.
"The patriarch was questioned by the interior minister over the land deal that cements the foothold of Jewish settlers in Jerusalem and helps the Judaisation of the holy city," Auda Quawas, a prominent Christian Greek Orthodox deputy, who
represents the capital's only Christian seat in parliament, said.
Jordan approves the appointment of the head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch under a 1958 law that gives it wide powers over elections of the church's top clergy.
Amman extracted a concession from Israel under a 1994 peace treaty that maintains its role as custodian of Muslim and Christian shrines even after it lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
"There are popular and clerical calls to annul the land deals and to revoke the recognition given to the patriarch by Jordan," according to Quawas, a member of a recently appointed committee headed by the justice minister to investigate the affair.
Patriarch Irineos I is said to have
allowed sale of Jerusalem plots
The patriarch accused his critics of trying to split the church. His spokesman blamed the scandal on rivals who were attempting to oust the patriarch for "ambitious and greedy motives".
Jordan's Christian Palestinians outnumber those in the West Bank and Gaza. Like many of their Muslim compatriots, their families settled after successive Arab-Israeli wars.
Several hundred Jordanian Orthodox Christians demonstrated on Friday to protest at the alleged sale and urged the government to defend Arab property rights.
The Jordan government signalled its readiness to take action against the patriarch if the allegations were proved right.
"Jordan upholds the position that this matter should be settled in such a way that guarantees Arab rights and to prevent any illegal sales of church land," government spokesman Asma Khadir said.
The Hashemite kingdom sees Jewish purchases as an attempt by Israel to gain control of property in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The Greek Orthodox Church is a significant landholder in Jerusalem owning thousands of acres of property.