“Advance religious freedom”

View of the Sea of Galilee © Elisabeth Schomaker (KNA)

Israel to make it easier for Christians from Gaza to attend Christmas celebrations in Jordan. In recent years, Palestinian Christians were also allowed to visit their relatives in the Gaza Strip. It was not known whether this would be possible again.

600 Christians from the West Bank are also said to have been registered in the period between 30. December and the 20. The winner of the award will be allowed to leave the country via Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on January 1, the Israeli Coordination Office for Government Activities in the Occupied Territories (COGAT) announced on Monday in response to a request from the Catholic News Agency (KNA). The authority did not disclose the number of exit permits ied to Gaza Christians.

Security checks needed

The measures are part of efforts to "advance and implement freedom of religion and worship and allow the population to participate in the usual celebrations of the season," COGAT said. All permits, however, would be subject to security screening.

Among the decided measures also 400 entry permits for Christians from Arab countries, who want to visit their families in the West Bank, count accordingly. The number of permits for church employees is to be increased. Palestinian Christian clergy should also be allowed to cross the Bezeq checkpoint in the Jordan Valley to visit Christian sites in the Galilee.

No details were given by the authority on whether Palestinian Christians will be allowed to visit relatives in Gaza, as in previous years, and whether Christians from Gaza will be allowed to travel to East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

No exit permits requested yet

Most recently, Israel had tightened exit conditions for Gaza Christians on Christian holidays after several Christians failed to return to the Gaza Strip after permits expired. After harsh criticism from church leaders, 300 Gaza Christians were briefly allowed to enter the West Bank and Jerusalem at Easter.

To date, the community has not been able to apply for exit permits for its faithful, the Catholic priest of Gaza, Gabriel Romanelli, told KNA on Monday. Accordingly, the submission of the corresponding applications requires the approval of Israel, which has not yet been received, the cleric said.

According to Romanelli, 117 Catholic Christians currently live in Gaza. The total number of Christians, including the majority Greek Orthodox, has fallen below 800 believers, according to estimates by the Latin Patriarchate.

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