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Israel church leaders urge government to allow Gaza’s Christian Palestinians to visit Bethlehem

Palestinian security forces stand guard on the roof of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem's Manger Square during the arrival of the participants in the sixth conference of Fatah movement in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 5 August, 2009 [Najeh Hashlamoun/Apaimages]
The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 5 August, 2009 [Najeh Hashlamoun/Apaimages]

Catholic leaders in Israel have urged the government to allow Christian Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to visit Bethlehem, in the West Bank, for Christmas next week, reported Haaretz. 

Last week, Israeli occupation authorities declared that Christians in Gaza “would not be permitted to travel to the West Bank for the holiday”.

Some 950 Palestinians, out of approximately 1,200 Christians in Gaza, applied to leave for Christmas, but the Israeli government has only “agreed to allow 100 people over the age of 45 to travel to Jordan and not to the West Bank”.

Following international outrage, Israeli occupation authorities posted a link online “saying that 500 people would be allowed to leave Gaza for Christmas”. However, “a few hours later, the link was deleted and the office said a decision had not been reached, blaming a technical glitch”.

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The statement issued yesterday by the heads of Catholic churches in Israel – aimed at foreign diplomats as well as the government – slammed the confusion and indecision.

According to Haaretz, “the church leaders stated that failure to provide permits to travel to the West Bank for the holiday would violate Gazans’ religious freedom.”

Last year, Israel granted permits for close to 700 Palestinian Christians to travel from Gaza to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other cities.

In April, 300 Christian Palestinians from Gaza were allowed to visit the West Bank and Jerusalem for Easter “only after public pressure on Israel to change its initial decision to bar them from entering”.

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