Is­rael to re­strict en­try of Gaza Chris­tians for Easter


JERUSALEM: Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties said on Thurs­day that they have de­cided to block most of Gaza's small Chris­tian com­mu­nity from en­ter­ing Is­rael for Easter cel­e­bra­tions, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns.

Is­rael main­tains a block­ade over the Ha­mas-ruled Gaza Strip and re­stricts en­try from the ter­ri­tory. But it of­ten eases the re­stric­tions dur­ing re­li­gious hol­i­days to al­low Gaza's res­i­dents to visit holy sites in Jerusalem or to visit rel­a­tives in Is­rael or the West Bank.

COGAT, the de­fense body that over­sees Pales­tinian civil­ian af­fairs, said it will let only Chris­tians aged 55 and older and chil­dren un­der age 16 en­ter Is­rael for Easter, which is cel­e­brated by Catholics on Sun­day and Ortho­dox Chris­tians the fol­low­ing week. It said the re­stric­tions were needed af­ter pre­vi­ous cases in which Gazan vis­i­tors over­stayed their per­mit­ted time in Is­rael.

A Chris­tian leader in Gaza said the re­stric­tions mean that only about one-third of the com­mu­nity's 1,100 mem­bers will be al­lowed into Is­rael to cel­e­brate. He said he was dis­ap­pointed be­cause his chil­dren would not be able to see their aunts in the West Bank city of Ra­mal­lah. He spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he did not want to jeop­ar­dize his own en­try per­mit.

Wadie Abunas­sar, a Catholic Church of­fi­cial, called the re­stric­tions “very sad” be­cause Easter is a fam­ily hol­i­day. He said it was “not rea­son­able” to al­low a mother and fa­ther to en­ter Is­rael, while “leav­ing their chil­dren back in Gaza,” and urged Is­rael to re­con­sider.

“If peo­ple want to leave, they don't want to leave for a hon­ey­moon,” he said. “It is for a fam­ily trip.”

Is­rael some­times eases re­stric­tions dur­ing re­li­gious hol­i­days to al­low Gazans to visit holy sites in Jerusalem.

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