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Palestinian Muslim groups slam Israel’s ‘racist nature’, defend Christian religious freedom

Christian worshipers wait behind barriers ahead of the Holy Fire ceremony outside al-Quds’s Holy Sepulchre church, as Israeli police stand guard on April 23, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Palestinian resistance groups have spoken up in support of Christians’ religious freedom, condemning the Israeli regime’s new restrictions on the number of Christians wishing to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the Holy Fire ceremony.

Christians celebrated their Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of al-Quds on Saturday, following the imposition of an incendiary limit on attendance this year that the regime in Tel Aviv claimed was for safety reasons.

The move provoked a backlash, with Christian leaders rejecting Israeli pretexts for capping attendance and saying the restrictions infringe on religious freedom.

In a statement on Friday, Palestinian resistance movement Hamas said the interference of Israeli courts in the religious affairs of Palestinians exposes the “racist nature” of the regime and refutes its “allegations regarding the freedom of worship for everyone.”

“We condemn the Israeli occupation supreme court’s ruling to limit the number of Christians allowed to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre” for the Holy Fire ceremony, the statement said.

“We stress that the Palestinian people have the right and willpower to defend their sacred Muslim and Christian sites. No Israeli schemes will deter our people from doing so at any cost,” it added.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another major Gaza-based resistance movement, also denounced the Israeli restrictions as a “blatant violation” of freedom of worship and an attack on Islamic and Christian sanctities in occupied al-Quds.

In a statement on Saturday, the group also called for the unity of all Palestinians to confront the Tel Aviv regime’s continued aggression and to “defend the right of our people” to worship and exercise their religious freedom, Palestine Today reported.

These practices will not affect the steadfastness and determination of the Palestinian people and their adherence to their land, it added.

Earlier this month, the Greek Patriarchate said it was “fed up with [Israeli] police restrictions on freedom to worship” and that it “has decided, by the power of the Lord, that it will not compromise its right to provide spiritual services in all churches and squares.”

Like al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is governed by a decades-old set of informal arrangements known as the status quo. The Israeli violations of those arrangements have angered Christians, as is the case in al-Aqsa with Muslim worshipers.

The al-Aqsa Mosque compound has been at the center of weeks of heightened Israeli violence against Palestinian worshipers since the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, which started early in April.

Israeli forces have killed at least 19 Palestinians, including three boys and three women, and injured hundreds more there in recent weeks.

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