Jewish and Anglican leaders urge people to protect all holy sites

Jerusalem, Israel - The Archbishop of Canterbury and Israel's chief rabbis issued a joint declaration Tuesday calling on religious communities worldwide to take responsibility for protecting all holy sites.

In their second meeting this year, the head of the Anglican church, Archbishop Rowan Williams, and Israeli Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger said the desecration of any holy site is a setback for all religious people.

"Every holy place — for example, synagogue, church or mosque — that belong to religious people, keep it as a holy place," Metzger said. "We hope that people will hear it and will keep our decision."

The religious leaders have planned to meet annually while a separate delegation of religious leaders and academics will meet twice a year. The annual meetings and the Anglican-Jewish commission are designed to foster an understanding between the religions.

Jerusalem itself is one of the most explosively contested religious centers in the world. A hilltop in the Old City, where the Al Aqsa Mosque compound was built over the ruins of the biblical Jewish temples, is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. Each side has often charged the other with desecrating the site, and outbreaks of violence over the allegations have killed thousands.

Tuesday, however, the religious leaders avoided referring to the contentious issue in public.

"I'm not here primarily to discuss the political situation," Williams said. "Our prayers are — as they always are — for peace and justice in this region, and we are to share our perspectives with one another in private."

Williams also called on fighters not to use holy sites to launch attacks, something he described as akin to using "religious language to justify violence."

At a meeting earlier this year, the religious leaders focused on a peaceful resolution between Israel and the Palestinians. They also said suicide and homicide in the name of religion is blasphemous.

While Williams is the worldwide leader of the Anglican church, the chief rabbis are recognized as the source of religious authority by only part of Israel's Jews, and even that is split between Amar and Metzger. Amar represents Jews of African and Middle Eastern origin, while Metzger leads Jews of European origin. But secular and less observant Jews do not turn to them for rulings, and neither do ultra-Orthodox sects, who have their own rabbis.