The Israel government reversed its previous decision and allowed Christians from Gaza Strip to visit Christmas sites during the holidays.
Israeli authorities on December 23 announced that it will permit Christians in the Palestinian territory of Gaza to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other holy cities on Christmas. This, after issuing a travel ban ten days earlier, reports The Jerusalem Post.
COGAT Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun has extended the travel facilitations for the Christian population of Gaza in recognition of the Christmas holiday. —COGAT
Travelling out of the Gaza Strip has been restricted by Israel and Egypt since the Islamist group Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.
The spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced on Twitter that, “COGAT director Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun has extended the travel facilitations for the Christian population of Gaza for the Christmas holiday.” Adding that, “entry permits for Jerusalem and for the West Bank will be issued in accordance with security assessments and without regard to age.”
Christian leaders, including Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, denounced Israel’s initial entry ban, reports Israel News. “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.
Catholic leaders in Israel and the West Bank issued a letter to COGAT asking the office to reconsider its decision. “Just as it is permitted for nations from all over the world to enter Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas, it is also the right of Christians from Gaza to celebrate the birth of Jesus the messiah in the place of his birth,” reports The Times of Israel.
“We call on Israeli authorities to allow, without further delay, Christians from Gaza to go to Bethlehem to celebrate the holiday.”
About 1,000 Christians live in Gaza, a minority in a population of 2 million people. Last year, Israel issued travel permits to 700 Gaza Christians during the holiday season.