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Bethlehem for holy Christmas worship – Most Christians in Gaza unable to visit

GAZA CIT: A Catholic nun of the Missionaries of Charity order holds a rosary as she attends Christmas Eve mass at the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Family in Gaza City on Tuesday.— AFP

GAZA CITY: Members of the Palestinian Christian community on Tuesday marked Christmas Eve in the besieged Gaza Strip and like previous years most were not allowed to leave the enclave. A Christmas mass was held at the Church of the Latin Monastery in Gaza City, where Christians gathered to mark the birth of Jesus Christ.

Thousands of Christians from across the world traveled to Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, to join the celebrations, but most Gazan citizens were not able to visit the city to worship. A total of 950 Gazan Christians applied to the Israel authorities for permits earlier this month to participate in the Bethlehem ceremonies but were initially not granted access to the revered city.

Later, the Israeli authorities issued permits to 193 people to allow them to leave the enclave. On Tuesday, those selected Palestinian Christian families left the Gaza Strip, through the Beit Hanoun Erez (North) crossing, heading towards the city of Bethlehem Gabriel Romanelli, the pastor of the Latin Church said Christians of Gaza were again disappointed that most were not allowed to enter Bethlehem.

“Normally we celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem and we celebrate Easter in Jerusalem,” said Pastor Romanelli, adding that it didn’t matter whether a person was Muslim, Christian or Jewish and that everyone has the right to worship in holy places. About 70 percent of Gaza Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox community, while the rest are part of the Latin Catholic community. According to Christian institutions in Gaza, the number of Christians in the Strip has decreased due to immigration, and there are now only around two thousand Christians out of two million Palestinians, living under Israel’s 13-year-long blockade.

Israeli forces on Tuesday demolished the home of a Palestinian family on the occupied West Bank because they said the building did not have a proper permit. Israeli bulldozers destroyed the two-storey home of Cemal Alyan in the Iseviye neighborhood.

Resi?dents threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli soldiers who responded by firing tear gas and stun grenades. The Israeli army uses an emergency law of a British Mandate in 1945 to demolish Palestinian homes, whose owners allegedly carried out attacks against Israelis. Israel’s top court usually rejects Palestinians’ appeals against the demolition orders. – Reuters

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