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Gaza Christians dismayed as Israel restricts entries over Easter

COGAT says only Gazans younger than 16 or over 55 can cross border because of worries they will overstay permits

Palestinian Christian couple from the Gaza Strip leaves through the Israeli Erez crossing, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Palestinian Christian couple from the Gaza Strip leaves through the Israeli Erez crossing, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

Israeli authorities said Thursday that they have decided to block most of Gaza’s small Christian community from entering Israel for Easter celebrations, citing security concerns.

COGAT, the defense body that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, said it will let only Christians aged 55 and older and children under age 16 enter Israel for Easter, which is celebrated by Catholics on Sunday and Orthodox Christians the following week. It said the restrictions were needed after previous cases in which Gazan visitors overstayed their permitted time in Israel.

Israel often eases entry restrictions during religious holidays to allow Palestinians to visit holy sites in Jerusalem or to visit relatives in Israel.

The decision to limit entries also comes amid increased tensions with Gaza over a planned march near the border fence Friday.

A Christian leader in Gaza said the restrictions mean that only about one-third of the community’s 1,100 members will be allowed into Israel to celebrate. He said he was disappointed because his children would not be able to see their aunts in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize his own entry permit.

Wadie Abunassar, a Catholic Church official, called the restrictions “very sad” because Easter is a family holiday. He said it was “not reasonable” to allow a mother and father to enter Israel, while “leaving their children back in Gaza,” and urged Israel to reconsider.

“If people want to leave, they don’t want to leave for a honeymoon,” he said. “It is for a family trip.”

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