Gaza Christians face Christmas travel ban

Orthodox Christian worshippers hold candles during the Easter Eve service at the St. Porphyrios church in Gaza City. (AP)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Gaza Christians face Christmas travel ban

  • ‘West Bank is part of Palestine, there is no logical reason to prevent Christians from traveling and even staying there’

GAZA CITY: Hatem Al-Far, 51, and his family seem nervous. They are awaiting the issuance of Israeli permits to visit the rest of his family and the holy places in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Al-Far lives in Gaza, but he has not been able to visit Bethlehem for four years, while Israel sometimes allows his wife and one of his children to travel to the West Bank during the Christmas and Easter.

Israel announced earlier that Christians in Gaza would not be allowed to visit the holy places for the first time, while 100 Palestinians would be allowed out of the Gaza Strip to Jordan.

The announcement has affected Al-Far, his family and Christians in Gaza who will not be able to go to the West Bank.

“I don’t trust anything until I get the permit in my hands, or at least my wife and children get the permits to travel and meet my daughter and son who are currently living in the West Bank.” Al-Far said.

He added: “Christmas is the most prominent opportunity for us as a family to meet. I do not know what is the reason for preventing me from obtaining a permit to visit the Church of the Nativity and do prayers there. The West Bank is part of Palestine, there is no logical reason to prevent any Christian from traveling and even staying there if he wishes.”

Israel tightly restricts movements out of the Gaza Strip, a territory controlled by the extremist group Hamas since 2007.

Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians — most of them Greek Orthodox — among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip.

Driven by the shattered economic situation, the siege, and the Israeli wars, the number of Christians in Gaza has shrunk in recent years, some of whom have moved to live in the West Bank or emigrate abroad.

I do not know what is the reason for preventing me from obtaining a permit to visit the Church of the Nativity and do prayers there.

Hatem Al-Far, Palestinian Christian

A number of Christians in Gaza mentioned that when Israel grants permits it does not grant them to all family members, which makes traveling difficult in the holiday season.

Hani Farah, secretary-general of the YMCA in Gaza, said: “Israel practices all forms of repression and violations against the Palestinians, regardless of their religion or gender.”

He added: “Just as Israeli bombs and missiles do not differentiate between the Palestinians, the blockade of Israel and its repressive measures do not differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian. We are all trapped in Gaza and we share pain and suffering.”

Like hundreds of other Christian Gazans who had applied for permits, Farah — who is a lay member of the Greek Orthodox community — had not received one for himself, his wife or their four children.

With the exception of the holiday seasons, Christians suffer from severe restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of Gazans to the West Bank, according to Farah.

The number of Christians in Gaza is shrinking due to several factors, according to Farah, the most important of which are economic conditions.

“When young people do not find work they are forced to travel abroad. The same is true for girls when they want to be associated with a husband but do not find someone to approach them, so they travel in order to marry.”

Gisha, the Israeli legal center for freedom of movement, said: “The decrease in the number of holiday permits issued to Christians in Gaza over the years, and the fact that this Christmas Israel has not allocated any permits for Christians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, point to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, a deepening of Israel’s separation policy.”


Eritrean navy urged to free dozens of Yemeni fishermen from custody

Fishermen work on their boats in the southern city of Aden, Yemen, in this file photo taken on March 18, 2015. (AP)
Updated 07 June 2020

Eritrean navy urged to free dozens of Yemeni fishermen from custody

  • Naval attacks getting more brazen, say Yemenis

AL-MUKALLA: There have been calls for Eritrea to release dozens of Yemeni fishermen who were caught last week after sailing into a maritime flashpoint.

On Wednesday 15 armed boats from Eritrea’s navy seized 120 Yemeni fishermen from the Red Sea between Hanish Islands and the coast of Khokha.

Eritrea briefly occupied the Hanish Islands in 1995 before retreating after the international arbitration court granted Yemen sovereignty over them. But Yemeni authorities complain that the Eritreans have attacked and seized hundreds of Yemeni fishermen over the last couple of years.

The most recent incursion triggered a brief clash with the Yemeni coastguards that ended with the capture of seven Eritreans, local security officials said. On Thursday the Eritreans released 62 Yemeni fishermen after confiscating their boats.

“We demand all concerned authorities to work on releasing our colleagues and their boats that are in Eritrea’s custody,” Khaled Al-Zarnouqi, the head of Yemen’s Shabab Al- Khokha fishery association, told Arab News on Saturday. “We demand the international community, the (Saudi-led) coalition and the (Yemeni) government to protect us from the repeated attacks by Eritrea’s navy that violates Yemeni sovereignty, attacks Yemeni fishermen and seizes boats.”

Hashem, one of the fishermen who was released on Thursday, said that armed Eritrean vessels approached their boats on Tuesday and asked them to sail to Eritrea’s Ras Tarma.

“They were tough,” Hashem told Arab News, preferring to be identified by his first name. “Before releasing us, they gave us little fuel and rickety boats and asked us to sail back home.”

NUMBER

120 Yemeni fishermen were captured by Eritrea’s navy on Wednesday from the Red Sea between Hanish Islands and the coast of Khokha.

The Eritreans refused to release their boats. “Each boat costs YER2.5 million ($9,987). They seized the finest and most expensive boats and allowed us to sail back with the worst ones.”

Local security officials and fishermen say that Eritrea’s naval attacks have become more brazen and are getting closer to the Yemeni coastline.

“They have attacked Yemeni fishermen less than 17 miles from the Yemeni coastline,” a local security official who documents Eritrea’s navy attacks on Yemeni fishermen told Arab News. “The Eritreans are also still holding 24 fishermen who were detained in the Red Sea on Dec. 1, 2019 and refuse to release them,” he said, adding that many fishermen were thinking of taking up arms to protect themselves.

Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in early 2015 when the Iran-backed Houthis expanded across Yemen after taking over Sanaa, triggering heavy clashes with their opponents.

Since the beginning of its military operations in Yemen in support of the internationally- recognized government, the Saudi-led coalition has trained and armed hundreds of coast guard troops and deployed them along the country’s coastline.

Yemeni officials say they are battling Eritrea’s navy attacks, Houthi arms' smugglers and drug gangs.