Egyptian Copts visiting Israel in throngs
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Egyptian Copts visiting Israel in throngs

15,000 pilgrims arrive in Jerusalem to celebrate Easter despite official ban

Orthodox Christian worshipers celebrate Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City during on May 4, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90).
Orthodox Christian worshipers celebrate Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City during on May 4, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90).

After years of being banned from making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in the past month alone some 15,000 Egyptian Copts visited Israel to celebrate the Coptic Easter, commemorated on May 4.

Egyptian Copts were forbidden from visiting Israel by their late Pope Shenouda III, who put the prohibition in place to protest Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem. Shenouda passed away in March 2012 at the age of 88 after leading the ancient church for 40 years.

In November, the church selected Pope Tawadros II as the new pope. According to the Egyptian news site Ahram Online, Tawadros also opposes the visits, but has refrained from enforcing the ban and thus paved the way for the thousands of pilgrims that have come in the past month.

Last week’s Coptic Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was marred when police at the site prevented three Egyptian diplomats from participating, including Mostafa Al-Qouni, the second-highest-ranking Egyptian at the Tel Aviv embassy. A Coptic bishop who was with Qouni was beaten during the incident and briefly lost consciousness. He was treated at a Jerusalem hospital and later released.

On Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin apologized to Egypt for the incident, and said “it is clear that things could have been handled differently.”

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