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Churches committee slams Israel’s restrictions on Christians in al-Quds

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Christian worshippers wait behind barriers ahead of the Holy Fire ceremony outside al-Quds's Holy Sepulchre church, as Israeli forces stand guard on April 23, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

The Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine has censured Israel’s restrictions on Christian worshipers during the Holy Fire celebrations at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, saying the move serves as a part of the regime’s plan to “Judaize” al-Quds and empty it of its native population.

On Saturday, Christians celebrated their “Holy Fire” ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of al-Quds against a backdrop of rising tensions with Israel.

This year, by imposing restrictions on attendance on the pretext of safety, the regime in Tel Aviv limited the crowd size based on space and the number of exits.

Israeli authorities justified the restrictions on the pretext of preventing a repeat of last year’s deadly stampede on Mount Meron, which occurred in northern Israel during the annual pilgrimage with around 100,000 people in attendance.

The head of the Churches committee, Ramzi Khoury, cautioned on Sunday that Israel’s provocative acts against Palestinian citizens, its continued violations of the sanctity of the Islamic and Christian sacred sites, and its infringement on Muslims’ and Christians’ right to practice their religions freely at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Sepulcher Church would intensify the already tense situation in occupied al-Quds

According to the Palestinian Information Center, Khoury accused the Israeli regime of plotting to change the status quo of al-Quds and limit the number of worshipers taking part in religious events by taking advantage of coronavirus-related preventive measures and the absence of Christian worshipers due to health protocols to contain the spread of the virus.

The matter, he said, had been dismissed by the churches, which urged Christian worshipers not to comply with such groundless decisions that are part of the Israeli plan to “Judaize” al-Quds and empty it of its native population.

Seeking actions against such practices by the Israeli regime, Khoury further called on the international community and human rights groups to stand by the Palestinian people who are facing restrictions on their most basic religious rights.

The Christian official concluded that the impunity enjoyed by the occupying entity has emboldened it to desecrate the sanctity of the churches and mosques and torment Christians and Muslims.

“What is happening is because of the absence of any deterrent to the apartheid regime to prevent it from violating the sanctity of churches and mosques and assaulting Christian and Muslim citizens and religious figures,” he said.

Meanwhile, 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.”

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, adding that such practices will not sway the steadfastness and determination of the Palestinian people and their adherence to their land.

Earlier this month, the Greek Patriarchate said it was “fed up with [Israeli] police restrictions on freedom to worship” and that it refuses to “compromise its right to provide spiritual services in all churches and squares.”

While the Israeli regime claims it is committed to ensuring freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, it has repeatedly violated decades-old arrangements governing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and al-Aqsa Mosque in recent years, adding fuel to an already tense situation in the historic Old City of al-Quds.

Likewise, 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 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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