Christians living in the Gaza Strip have yet to receive permits to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for Resurrection Sunday.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said church authorities applied for some 600 permits for Gazans to travel but have yet to receive any just days before Good Friday.
Israel strictly regulates who can go in and out of Gaza, which is controlled by the violent terror organization Hamas.
“Israel is a sovereign state and it has the right to decide who will enter its gates. No foreign residents have an inherent right to enter Israel, including Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip,” a Civil Administration (COGAT) spokesman said in a statement.
Father Ibrahim Shomali, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said Gazan Christians should not be required to get permits.
“We have to have free access to the Holy Land, free access to our holy places,” he told Reuters. “Of course we apply, but in reality there must be no applying for permits to come to visit your own places.”
In Gaza, George Antone of the Latin Patriarchate said Israel allowed nearly 600 Christians out of Gaza last year, and hoped they will be granted access.
“So far there has been no response. I will not lose hope but I will be sad if the permits do not come,” he said
Israeli authorities are tightening security because Easter falls on the same week as Passover, one of the most important Jewish holidays.
In the meantime, tensions are rising on the Gazan border in the weeks leading up to Israel’s 70th year anniversary as a modern nation.
Hamas detonated bombs, launched missiles and fired machine guns in the streets during a 24-hour military exercise Sunday.
The Israeli military bombed a Hamas position after four Palestinians broke through the border fence on Saturday and attempted to torch a military engineering vehicle.