The leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church made a rare visit to Israel on Saturday to attend the funeral of a senior Coptic official in Jerusalem.
It was the first visit by the head of Coptic Christians in decades.
Pope Tawadros II broke a ban on pilgrimages to take part in the funeral of Archbishop Anba Abraham, the head of the Coptic Church in the Holy Land, who died on Wednesday at the age of 73, at a church at the Holy Sepulcher compound, where the Coptic church has maintained a presence since early Christianity.
The travel ban to Israel was imposed by Tawadros’s predecessor, the late Shenouda III, who opposed the normalization of ties between Egypt and Israel.
Shenouda passed away in 2012 after leading the ancient orthodox church for 40 years.
A 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty ended hostilities between the two neighbors. But anti-Israel sentiments still run high in Egypt and many there have accused Tawadros of betrayal.
Tawadros insisted he was not making an official visit and was merely there to “bid farewell to a very important person.”
“The visit is to attend the funeral and nothing more,” church spokesman Boulos Halim told AFP on Thursday.
“The position of the church remains unchanged, which is not going to Jerusalem without all our Egyptian (Muslim) brothers.”
Despite the ban, hundreds of Egyptian Copts have visited Israel over the past few years during Easter.