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Israel bars Gaza Christians from Easter celebrations in Jerusalem

Gaza's tiny Christian minority numbers around 1,100. [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 April, 2019

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Easter is a rare opportunity for Palestinian Christians in Gaza to visit holy sites or relatives in the occupied West Bank, Israel and Jerusalem.

Israel has refused to issue travel permits to Gaza's dwindling Christian minority to attend Easter celebrations in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, it was revealed this weekend.

In previous years Israeli authorities have granted exit permits to Gaza's Christian minority - numbering some 1,100 people - but last week announced that only 200 Christians over the age of 55 would be allowed to travel to Jordan, without visiting the occupied West Bank or Jerusalem.

Easter is a rare opportunity for Palestinian Christians in Gaza to visit holy sites or relatives in the occupied West Bank, Israel and Jerusalem.

"This is the first time that we know of that Israel is outright denying access of Gaza Christians to the West Bank and Israel (on Christmas or Easter)," Israeli human rights group Gisha said this week.

"The increased restriction on the movement of Palestinian Christians points to further implementation of Israel's 'separation policy': a policy restricting movement between Gaza and the West Bank which deepens the split between the two parts of the occupied Palestinian territory," the group added.

An Israeli government official said on Friday that a limited number of Christians would be allowed to visit the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, but church leaders said no permits had been issued.

Despite the announcement, it is unlikely that permits could be processed or that Gazan Christians could organise travel arrangements in time for Easter celebrations.

Israeli agencies are also understaffed at present due to the seven-day Jewish Passover holiday.

For Gaza's Catholic community the main Easter mass is held at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday, while Greek Orthodox Christians – the majority in Gaza – celebrate Easter next weekend.

There are an estimated 50,000 Palestinian Christians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with a further 120,000 in Israel.

Worldwide the number of Palestinian Christians is estimated at 400,000, most of whom are descendants of those who fled or were expelled during the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.

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