Israel bars Gaza’s Christians from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas

Christian visitors shop near the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AP Photo)
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Updated 13 December 2019

Israel bars Gaza’s Christians from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas

  • Gazan Christians will be granted permits to travel abroad but none will be allowed to go to Israel and the occupied West Bank
  • Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians — most of them Greek Orthodox — among a population of 2 million

JERUSALEM/GAZA: Christians in the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas this year, Israeli authorities said on Thursday.
Gazan Christians will be granted permits to travel abroad but none will be allowed to go to Israel and the occupied West Bank, home to many sites holy to Christians, a spokeswoman for Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said.
Israel tightly restricts movements out of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas.
The spokeswoman said that following “security orders,” Gazans would be allowed to travel abroad via Israel’s Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan but not to visit cities in Israel or the West Bank.
Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians — most of them Greek Orthodox — among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip.
This year’s decision is a break with usual policy. Last year, Israel granted permits for close to 700 Gazan Christians to travel to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy cities that draw thousands of pilgrims each holiday season.
Gisha, an Israeli rights group, said the ban points “to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory,” calling it “a deepening of Israel’s separation policy” for the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinians seek to set up a state in the West Bank and Gaza, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel in the past has defended its restrictions on Gazans traveling to the West Bank, saying many Palestinians from Gaza stay on illegally when granted short-term permits.
In Gaza, one Christian woman voiced hope Israel would reverse its policy so she could visit her family in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Every year I pray they will give me a permit so I can celebrate Christmas and see my family,” Randa El-Amash, 50, said, adding: “It will be more joyful to celebrate in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem.”
Christian leaders in Jerusalem condemned the move, but added that they are appealing to Israeli authorities to reverse the decision.
“Other people around the world are allowed to travel to Bethlehem. We think Gaza’s Christians should have that right, too,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, an adviser to local church leaders.


Europe will face terror threat if Libya govt falls: Erdogan

Updated 14 min 32 sec ago

Europe will face terror threat if Libya govt falls: Erdogan

  • The article was published on the eve of a Libya peace conference in Berlin
  • Erdogan’s government backs Sarraj and the Turkish parliament approved the deployment of troops to Libya

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Europe it could face new threats from terrorist organizations if Libya’s UN-recognized government in Tripoli were to fall, in an article published in Politico on Saturday.

In the article, which was published on the eve of a Libya peace conference in Berlin, Erdogan said the EU’s failure to adequately support the Government of National Accord (GNA) would be “a betrayal of its own core values, including democracy and human rights.”

“Europe will encounter a fresh set of problems and threats if Libya’s legitimate government were to fall,” Erdogan wrote.

“Terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, which suffered a military defeat in Syria and Iraq, will find a fertile ground to get back on their feet.”

The GNA led by Fayez Al-Sarraj has been under attack since April from strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces based in the east of the country, with fighting killing over 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters.

In a joint initiative, Turkey and Russia have brokered a cease-fire but Haftar walked away from talks in Moscow this week aimed at finalizing the truce agreement.

A furious Erdogan has accused Haftar of fleeing Moscow and said he would “teach (him) a lesson” if he resumed fighting.

Erdogan’s government backs Sarraj and the Turkish parliament approved the deployment of troops to Libya earlier this month after the signing of a controversial security and maritime deal between Tripoli and Ankara.

“To leave Libya at the mercy of a warlord would be a mistake of historic proportions,” he said, in a veiled reference to Haftar.