ISRAEL NEWS: Israel will allow Gaza Christians to celebrate Christmas holiday -Tribune

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Israeli authorities on Wednesday said they would permit 500 members of the Gaza Strip’s tiny Christian community to enter Israel and the occupied West Bank to celebrate Christmas.

Israel has in the past allowed Gazans to exit the blockaded territory for Christmas, though the practice was frozen last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Movement out of Gaza also has been restricted since an 11-day war last May between Israel and the territory’s Hamas rulers. In recent months Israel has started to relax some restrictions and granted several thousand Gazans permission to work in Israel. This was part of Egypt’s quiet efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire.

COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, announced the permits allowing people to visit relatives and holy sites in Israel and the West Bank. It also announced that it would increase access to Jerusalem for Christians living in the occupied West Bank, and allow some 200 Gazan Christians through Israel to Jordan to make trips abroad.

Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Christ, is in the West Bank. Officials fear that there will be few tourists this year because of the lingering effects from the pandemic. Tourism is a major source of income for the town.

About 1,000 Christians live in Gaza, a tiny fraction of the territory’s 2 million people. The majority of Gaza’s residents are Greek Orthodox and Catholics make up around 25%. The ruling Islamic militant Hamas movement considers Christians to be a protected minority. Although there were a few terrorist attacks on Christians during the initial years of Hamas’ overthrow, the Islamic movement has worked hard to prevent such attacks.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. To leave the territory, residents must have permits.

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