The Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Yaacov Edri, have announced that the government will install an emergency exit in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as a security measure to protect the thousands of pilgrims that visit the shrine.

According to the Israeli newspaper “Maariv,” the decision came after Edri visited the church and concluded that in the case of fire or some other type of emergency, exiting the building would be difficult due to the single door that serves as both the entrance and exit.

However, construction of the emergency exit would require Israeli work crews to occupy areas jointly controlled by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Latin Patriarchate, and the Armenian Church.  The newspaper says the plan would break the status quo at the holy site.  

An attempt to build such an exit took place in 1996, but Israeli authorities and church leaders could not reach an agreement.

Over the weekend, Israel’s Minister for Jerusalem affairs said the new exit “must be opened - even if no agreement is reached.”  

“If they cannot reach an agreement between themselves,” he added, “we will make the decision ourselves and begin to work.”

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher – built over the burial place of Jesus - is visited each year by thousands of believers of diverse Christian denominations, with scores of pilgrims infiltrating the site on Good Friday alone.