Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre closes as Israel ups anti-virus measures
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Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre closes as Israel ups anti-virus measures

Spokesperson for local clergy expresses hope iconic Christian site will soon be reopened

Adeeb Joude, the custodian in charge of the ancient key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, closes the entrance gate to the church due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Jerusalem's Old City on March 25, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
Adeeb Joude, the custodian in charge of the ancient key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, closes the entrance gate to the church due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Jerusalem's Old City on March 25, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed by Christians to house Christ’s tomb, was shut Wednesday, as Israel tightened movement restrictions and the Palestinians announced their first novel coronavirus death.

The church, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, was closed shortly after 5 p.m. as Israel applied a series of new restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus, including shutting down places of worship.

It was not immediately clear if the Western Wall plaza, the holiest place Jews can pray, would be similarly shuttered.

“We have been informed of the closure. Our understanding is that it is for one week. We hope (the church) will reopen as soon as possible,” said Wadie Abunassar, a spokesperson for the local clergy.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Adeeb Jawad Joudeh Alhusseini‎‏ ב- יום רביעי, 25 במרץ 2020

The new restrictions in Israel, announced in a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, prohibited leaving one’s home except to buy essentials, such as food and medicine, or to seek medical treatment.

“Individuals aged 60 and over, especially the elderly and at-risk groups, must remain at home and avoid risking themselves by going out,” the statement said.

A worshipper prays in front of the closed entrance of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem’s Old city due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, on March 25, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI/AFP)

“Violating the prohibitions will constitute a criminal offense” it added, noting that police were tasked with enforcing the orders, which will be in place for seven days.

The church’s closure, a short time before Easter celebrations, comes days after Muslim authorities closed the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount, Islam’s third holiest site.

A lone worshipper prays over the Stone of Anointing at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old city of Jerusalem, on March 22, 2020, amid tight restrictions imposed by Israel to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus which causes the Covid-19 disease. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The number of Israelis who have tested positive for the COVID-19 disease reached 2,369 on Wednesday evening. Five people have died in recent days after contracting the virus.

Palestinian authorities in the West Bank reported the territory’s first death from the virus on Wednesday, with 60 cases recorded so far.

The Palestinian Authority on Sunday banned all non-essential movements for 14 days to curb the spread of the virus.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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