Under International Pressure, Israel Reverses Ban on Gaza Christians Visiting Holy Sites

Thousands of people attend the annual Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Bethlehem's Manger Square. (Photo: via Twitter)

Christians in the Gaza Strip will be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas, Israeli authorities said on Sunday, reversing a previous decision, Reuters reports.

On December 12, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said that – in accordance with “security orders” – Gaza Christians would not be allowed to go to Israel or the occupied West Bank.

On Sunday, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians announced on Twitter that its director has “extended the travel facilitation for the Christian population of Gaza for the Christmas holiday”.

As a result, COGAT said, “entry permits for Jerusalem and for the West Bank will be issued in accordance with security assessments and without regard to age.”

Gaza has only around 1,100 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox, in a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip.

As Ramzy Baroud, journalist, author and editor of The Palestine Chronicle commented:

“Like Gaza’s Muslims, these Christians are cut off from the rest of the world, including the holy sites in the West Bank. Every year, Gaza’s Christians apply for permits from the Israeli military to join Easter services in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Last April, only 200 Christians were granted permits, but on the condition that they must be 55 years of age or older and that they are not allowed to visit Jerusalem.”

Only 2 percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the besieged Gaza Strip. When Israel occupied Gaza along with the rest of historic Palestine in 1967, an estimated 2,300 Christians lived in the Strip. However, merely 1,100 Christians still live in Gaza today.

(The Palestine Chronicle, MEMO, Social Media)

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