Church criticises Israel’s ‘heavy-handed restrictions’ on Easter

The Greek Orthodox Church on Wednesday slammed what it called Israel’s “heavy-handed restrictions” on freedom of worship as it prepares to celebrate Easter in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israeli police said the limits are needed for safety during Saturday’s “Holy Fire” celebration at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the 12th-century holy site where Jesus is believed by Christians to have been crucified, buried and resurrected.

Israeli authorities claim the measures are related to recent violence in the Old City, touched off by Israeli police raids on Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, the compound that is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and its attacks on Muslim worshippers.

But many Christian leaders, who say there is no need to alter a ceremony that has been held for centuries, believe this is part of an ongoing Israeli policy to push them out of their homeland.

Every year, Israeli police have limited the number of pilgrims who can attend Christian celebrations, including the “Holy Fire” ceremony, irrespective of the security situation.

“They’ve locked down the Christian and Armenian quarters on the actual day [of the ceremony – Saturday] and pretty much let no one else into the city except for those issued tickets by the police for the Holy Fire,” said Donald Binder, chaplain to the Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem.

“[Christianity] is the biggest religion in the world and yet Christians are being kept out of their quarter of the holy city on the holiest day of the year for them,” he told Al Jazeera.



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