Israel's Supreme Court on Friday blocked the eviction of Jewish settlers from the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, temporarily setting aside an order by the attorney general.
The 150 settlers can remain in the former Hospice of St. John, near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, until the high court hears more arguments next week on an appeal by the settlers to remain.
Atty. Gen. Yosef Harish on Thursday had ordered the immediate eviction of the settlers from the 72-room complex, owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. Harish said he wanted to prevent further deterioration of Jewish-Christian relations.
The church claims that a former tenant illegally sold his user rights to the building to the settlers.
The move by the settlers into the Christian Quarter last week sparked protests by Arab Christians and Muslims. They fear that the group is leading a campaign to eventually push all Palestinians out of the walled Old City.
After the high court allowed the settlers to stay, half a dozen Greek Orthodox priests carrying candles staged a protest vigil outside the complex. Black flags fluttered from the Holy Sepulcher and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
In Friday's hearing, the Supreme Court made no reference to the religious and political dimensions of the case.
Right-wing Parliament member Hanan Porath said even though the court treated the case as a simple tenancy dispute, it is a political confrontation.
"The motives of all sides are political. This is a struggle over the rights of Jews to live everywhere in Jerusalem," he told reporters.
Anger over the move has been heightened by the fact that under Israeli law, Arabs cannot buy land in the Old City's Jewish Quarter. The city also contains Armenian and Muslim quarters.