Israel has granted hundreds of Christians from Gaza the permission to travel to the West Bank for upcoming Orthodox Easter celebrations, Ma’an News Agency reported.
According to Israeli officials, approximately 500 permits were issued. Gaza is home to small Christian community of about 2,500 people. Like elsewhere in the Middle East, the small community has come under increasing pressure from Islamic extremists in the Hamas-run coastal enclave.
The Christians were allowed to travel for Easter celebrations for “humanitarian reasons” despite a closure in the Gaza border crossing due to a recent increase in rocket fire from the region.
Meanwhile, tensions have grown over an Israeli court approval of the construction route of the security fence near the Palestinian Christian village of Beit Jala, which is close to Bethlehem. The security fence, whose construction began in 2002, was designed to protect Israel from Palestinian terror attacks, but the International Criminal Court (ICC) considers the structure to be “illegal” under international law.
The security fence is roughly 80 percent complete and has coincided with a sharp drop in terrorism from the West Bank. An Israeli military official told the Associated Press that Palestinian terrorists have previously used Beit Jala to attack the Jewish community of Har Gilo.
Local Palestinians, however, contend that the security fence will separate the village from their farmlands, some of which are owned by the Vatican. Local Palestinian Christians have appealed to Pope Francis about this issue.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that Israel has been in discussion with the Vatican and local Christian officials, and is working towards a solution for both sides.
“We have been trying to make our case and reach an agreement on what would be possible,” Palmor told the Associated Press.