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Gazan Christians await permits for Easter Jerusalem celebrations Open in fullscreen

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Gazan Christians await permits for Easter Jerusalem celebrations

A Palestinian man protests outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 March, 2018

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It's unclear whether Israel will grant Gazan Christians permits to visit Jerusalem's holy sites for Easter.

Gazan Christians have not yet received permits from Israeli authorities to visit Jerusalem to celebrate Easter, Reuters reported. 

Church authorities had applied for some 600 Gazans to travel but no applications have been approved, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Israel tightly restricts movement in and out of the Gaza Strip as per its efforts to squeeze Hamas, an Islamist group that it considers a terror organisation. 

Israel has maintained a decade-long blockade of Gaza. The UN has previously characeterised the blockade as "collective punishment" and has said it violates international law.

The Israeli military-run authority in the West Bank said the country has a right to restrict access to Palestinians, stating that many Gazans had remained illegally in the past after getting permits. 

“Israel is a sovereign state and it has the right to decide who will enter its gates. No foreign residents have an inherent right to enter Israel, including Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip,” said a Civil Administration (COGAT) spokesman, who declined to say whether permits would be issued this time around.

Easter this year falls on the same weekend as Passover and church leaders fear that it will mean even more restrictions for Palestinians who want to travel.

Israel typically ramps up its security operations around the Jewish holiday. 

Father Ibrahim Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate argued that permits shouldn't even be required in the first place. “We have to have free access to the Holy Land, free access to our holy places,” he said at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most revered sites in Christianity. 

“Of course we apply, but in reality there must be no applying for permits to come to visit your own places,” he added.

Of Gaza's 2 million Palestinian residents, about 1,000 are Christian. The vast majority belong to the Greek Orthodox branch of Christianity.  

Last year, Israel allowed more than 550 Christians out of Gaza to visit Jerusalem for Easter. George Antone of the Latin Patrairchate said he hoped they would be allowed to travel again this year. 

“So far there has been no response. I will not lose hope but I will be sad if the permits do not come,” he said. Easter for Orthodox Christians falls this year on 8 April, about one week later than when most Christians worldwide celebrate the holiday. 

Christian leaders worry that their criticism of the Trump administration for recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital could lead to further restrictions on their holy sites. 

“(Israel) will close every single checkpoint, and this will be more strict than any other year because of the proclamation of Trump and the effects we got from it, and that we will get from it,” said Shomali.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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