Jerusalem24 – The church leaders in Jerusalem condemned yesterday Israeli-imposed restrictions on Christian worship ahead of the religious ceremony of the Holy Fire set to take place this upcoming Saturday in the old city of occupied East Jerusalem, preceding Easter on Sunday.
The new restrictions would cut the number of worshippers by 80%, according to the Israeli police, and are necessary to “maintain safety”. However, over 15,000 Jewish Israelis gathered at the Western Wall in the old city on 9 April for Passover, according to Israel Police estimates, without any security incidents.
The Status Quo Churches Committee in Jerusalem said in a statement that Israeli authorities want to impose “unjustified and unprecedented restrictions on believers’ access to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – worse than last year.”
“We: The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Patriarchate, clearly confirm in our statements that we will continue to abide by the existing status quo customs and the ceremony as customary for two millennia.”
Palestinian media reported that the restrictions mean that only 1,800 people will be allowed inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (one of the holiest sites in Christianity where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead) with another 1,200 allowed outside the church – instead of the 10,000 worshippers that typically come during Easter.
Earlier this week, Israel also canceled at the last minute and without explanation over 700 permits that Palestinian Christians from Gaza had obtained to visit Jerusalem for Easter.
The Islamic-Christian Commission in support of Jerusalem condemned the sudden cancellation of permits for Palestinian Christians from Gaza, and dubbed it “an affront to their freedom to worship”.
The Christian community in occupied East Jerusalem has been the target of an increasing number of attacks against persons and property, and has repeatedly warned the Israeli government that its concerns are “not being taken seriously” by Israeli authorities.