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Jerusalem patriarchates want voice at Camp David

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JERUSALEM — Christian leaders in Jerusalem have said they want their representatives to attend the Camp David talks and any future peace summits as Israelis and Palestinians discuss the status of the holy city.

They made the request in a letter, dated July 17 and sent to Reuters on Wednesday, addressed to U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at the summit near Washington.

"...it might be well advisable to have representatives from our three Patriarchates and the Custody of the Holy Land at the Camp David summit meeting as much as at any future (forum) in order to provide continuity and consultation on our future and on our rights..." the letter said.

It was sent by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Diodoros I and Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Torkom II.

The letter said the churches wanted to ensure by their presence at summits that the rights of Christians were "maintained unequivocally and safeguarded fully."

As the location of sites sacred to Christians, Moslems and Jews, Jerusalem has been the most sensitive issue to be resolved at the Camp David talks. Barak was preparing to leave the summit on Wednesday after eight days.

The letter urged the leaders to prevent any divisions of the "inseparable" Christian and Armenian quarters in the Old City.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified, is located in the Old City, as are Judaism's holiest site the Western Wall and the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third most sacred shrine.

Israel's annexation of the eastern half of Jerusalem has not been recognised internationally. The Palestinians want sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967.

"As you deliberate over those issues that impact the Holy City of Jerusalem, we trust you will not forget or overlook our age-long presence here," the letter said.