Israel to Return Sergei Courtyard

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Israel will hand over ownership of a 19th-century Jerusalem building to the Russian government in July, following negotiations between the two countries, Haaretz said Thursday, without citing anyone.

The ornate structure, known as the Sergei Courtyard, was built in 1890 for pilgrims from tsarist Russia and named after Sergei Alexandrovich, the heir apparent of Nicholas II, the newspaper said. It is now used by the Israeli Agriculture Ministry and the Society for the Protection of Nature.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who may visit Israel in July to sign the deal, allocated 10 million rubles ($422,000) for renovation and preservation of the building earlier this month, the daily said, citing Russian media reports.

It was given to the ministry after the Soviet Union broke off relations with Israel in 1967, Newsru.com reported. In 2005, Putin, then president, convinced then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to begin the process of returning the building, the web site said.