- Title: Jerusalem Patriarch visits Gaza as Christmas travel restrictions heightened
- Date: 15th December 2019
- Summary: MAN HOLDING A BABY WITH SANTA HAT / YOUTHS TAKING PHOTOS FIREWORKS WOMAN HOLDING A BABY DRESSED AS SANTA
- Embargoed: 29th December 2019 13:48
- Keywords: Christmas Gaza Israel Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa Palestinians religion
- Location: GAZA CITY, GAZA/ JERUSALEM
- City: GAZA CITY, GAZA/ JERUSALEM
- Country: Palestinian Territories
- Topics: Religion/Belief,Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA004BA35LQF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: The acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa led an early Christmas mass in Gaza on Sunday (December 15) as Israel said it would bar Gaza's Christians from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas.
"Here in Gaza we celebrate Christmas a few days before because many of them cannot go to Bethlehem. So we come here to celebrate with them, to let them enjoy as much as possible this period, the season of Christmas. I hope that one day all this situation will be finished and we can celebrate all, the Palestinian Christians, together in Bethlehem," visiting Pizzaballa said on Saturday evening (December 14) outside church where Gaza Christians gathered to celebrate Christmas and light up the tree.
Israeli authorities said on Thursday (December 12) that Christians in the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas this year.
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, an Islamist group that it considers a terrorist organization.
The spokeswoman said that following "security orders", Gazans would be allowed to travel abroad via Israel's Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan but prevented from visiting cities in Israel or the West Bank.
Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians - most of them Greek Orthodox - among its 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.
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 travelling to the West Bank, saying many Palestinians from Gaza stay on illegally when granted short-term permits.
Christian leaders in Jerusalem condemned the move, but added that they are appealing to Israeli authorities to reverse the decision.
Elsewhere in the old city of Jerusalem, hundreds of people gathered in the narrowed walled streets to watch the lighting up of the holy city Christmas tree.
(Production Credit: Sinan Abu Mizar, Abed Shanaa, Lee Marzel)
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