The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has denounced Israel's prevention of 200 Christians from the besieged Gaza Strip from visiting holy sites in the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas, Anadolu news agency reported.
"The Zionist ban is a flagrant violation of the Christians' rights to practice their religious rites, depriving them of their natural right to access places of worship" the Movement said in a statement.
Hamas called on the United Nations, the international community and human rights institutions to "assume their responsibility to stop the Occupation's violations against our Christian citizens, and the places of worship".
It also called for "punishing the Occupation authorities and its leaders for their crimes and violations of the most basic human rights guaranteed in accordance with divine laws and relevant international laws".
For his part, Kamel Ayad, Director of Public Relations at the Orthodox Church in Gaza, said, "The Israeli authorities refused to give permits to 200 Christians from the Gaza Strip to travel to the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem to participate in Christmas celebrations" under the pretext of "security reasons".
He pointed out that all Christians in Gaza have the right to attend the Christmas celebrations in the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Tens of thousands of Christians from around the world arrive in East Jerusalem and other areas within the Occupied Palestinian Territories annually, to participate in the celebrations inside the most sacred religious sites for Christians in the world.
About 1,000 Christians live in Gaza, out of a total population of nearly two million people, about 70 per cent of whom belong to the Greek Orthodox sect, while the rest belong to the Latin Catholic sect.
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