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Easter 2016 in Jerusalem: Record 850 Gaza Christians Permitted For Christian Holy Day Into Bethlehem

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At least 850 Christian Palestinians from the Gaza City Strip will travel to celebrate Easter in Bethlehem and occupied East Jerusalem after Israeli authorities agreed to grant them permits, a Palestinian official said Saturday. This is the first time such a large number of Christians from Gaza received permits to go to the West Bank and Jerusalem.
A record-setting number of Palestinian Christians this year were permitted by Israeli authorities to travel to Bethlehem and occupied East Jerusalem to celebrate Easter. AFP

At least 850 Christian Palestinians from the Gaza City Strip will travel to celebrate Easter in Bethlehem and occupied East Jerusalem after Israeli authorities agreed to grant them permits, a Palestinian official said Saturday. This is the first time such a large number of Christians from Gaza received permits to go to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Muhammad al-Maqadma, a public information officer for the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, told Ma'an News Israel had granted approximately 850 permits to Gaza Christians of different ages to travel to the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Al-Maqadma said the permits were the result of "dedicated efforts" by Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh to enable hundreds of Christians to celebrate the holidays within a span of 45 days.

Parish priest of the Holy Family in Gaza Fr. Mario de Silva said that the group would include Palestinians between the ages of 16 and 35 for the first time in eight years.

These permits came after hundreds of travel permits were revoked from Palestinians in Gaza last month. Ma'an News reports Israel froze an agreement earlier this week that previously permitted a limited number of Gazans above the age of 60 to travel to occupied East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa for Friday worship.

In a press briefing on Thursday, the rector of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Father Jamal Khader, said the way permits were attributed in past years affected the number of Gaza Christians who could actually travel to Jerusalem for Easter. "In previous years, permits (for Gaza Christians) were given randomly, and if they don't have them for the whole family, they cannot come," Khader said.

East Jerusalem, including the historic Old City, was occupied by Israeli forces in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.

In past years, Ma'an News states Christian celebrations in Jerusalem during the week leading up to Easter have been subjected to stringent Israeli security measures, with increased numbers of checkpoints and military closures around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built where Jesus Christ is traditionally believed to have been crucified and buried.

Israeli restrictions on Palestinian Christian worship during the holiday has, in the past, prevented thousands of Christian Palestinians from traveling to Jerusalem and has led to chaotic scenes in the city itself.

An estimated 200,000 Palestinian Christians live in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel in total. 

Tags : Easter, Jerusalem, Gaza Christians, Christian Holy Day, Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, Gazans, Israel, West Bank, Gaza Strip, Gaza permits, Church of the Holy Sepulchre