Christians in the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas this year, Israeli authorities said on Thursday, Reuters reports.
Gazan Christians will be granted permits to travel abroad but none will be allowed to go to Israel and the occupied West Bank, home to many sites holy to Christians, a spokeswoman for Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said.
Palestinian Christians in the besieged Gaza Strip are barred by the Israeli authorities to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas this year. https://t.co/HQwxVIbg3d
— Adalah Justice Project (@AdalahJustice) December 13, 2019
Israel tightly restricts movements out of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas, an Islamist group that it considers a terrorist organization.
The spokeswoman said that following “security orders”, Gazans would be allowed to travel abroad via Israel’s Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan but not to visit cities in Israel or the West Bank.
Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip.
This year’s decision is a break with the usual policy. Last year, Israel granted permits for close to 700 Gazan Christians to travel to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy cities that draw thousands of pilgrims each holiday season.
Gisha, an Israeli rights group, said the ban points “to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory,” calling it “a deepening of Israel’s separation policy” for the West Bank and Gaza.
Christian leaders in Jerusalem condemned the move but added that they are appealing to Israeli authorities to reverse the decision.