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Anti-Christian attacks by Israeli extremists rising under Netanyahu’s far-right cabinet: Catholic patriarch

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the occupied al-Quds (file photo)

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in the occupied al-Quds says anti-Christian attacks by Israeli extremists have increased in the Palestinian territories since Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right cabinet has assumed office.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Vatican-appointed Latin Patriarch of al-Quds, said in an interview with The Associated Press published on Friday that life for Christians in the birthplace of Christianity has worsened since the inauguration of the far-right Israeli cabinet, with extremists being emboldened to harass clergy and vandalize religious property at an alarming rate.

“The frequency of these attacks, the aggressions, has become something new,” Pizzaballa said, adding, “These people feel they are protected… that the cultural and political atmosphere now can justify, or tolerate, actions against Christians.”

Anti-Christian attacks by Israeli extremists in the occupied West Bank, East al-Quds and Israel have increased in recent months, deepening the fears of Palestinian Christians for their safety, according to church leaders.

In January, Israeli settlers vandalized a Christian cemetery in al-Quds over the New Year holidays, smashing crosses and knocking down headstones on more than 30 graves.

Two Israelis entered the Church of Gethsemane a month later and physically attacked an archbishop and a priest during a religious service.

“This escalation will bring more and more violence,” Pizzaballa underlined. “It will create a situation that will be very difficult to correct.”

Pizzaballa's warning comes ahead of Orthodox Easter celebrations set to take place this weekend amid heightened tensions in the Palestinian territories.

Church leaders defy Israeli restrictions

On Wednesday, church leaders in the occupied al-Quds decried an Israeli regime’s decision to impose strict curbs on Christian worshipers wishing to visit the Holy Sepulchre Church in the Old City to celebrate Easter.

Israeli forces were ordered to slash the number of worshipers allowed to attend by 80 percent in order to maintain safety, with church leaders calling the decision an affront to the rights and freedoms of the local Christian community, vowing not to comply with it.

"We shall continue to uphold the status quo customs, and the ceremony will be held as customary for two millennia, and all who wish to worship with us are invited to attend," the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Patriarchate said in a joint statement.

The new restrictions mean that only 1,800 people will be allowed inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with another 1,200 outside, instead of the 10,000 worshipers that typically come during Easter.

Tel Aviv has stepped up settlement expansion since late December, when Netanyahu staged a comeback as prime minister at the head of a cabinet of hard-right and ultra-Orthodox parties. The extremist cabinet's policies in other fields have also caused outrage among Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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