Israel cuts number of Christian worshippers at Orthodox Easter ceremony
In an unprecedented step, the Israeli Police on Friday drastically cut the number of Christian worshippers to be allowed at a Saturday Orthodox Easter ceremony in occupied east Jerusalem, thus preventing thousands of believers from attending one of Christianity’s holiest festive.
Attendance of the “Sabbath of Light” ceremony on Saturday will be limited to just a few hundred people, compared to some 10,000 in past years, the Israeli police said.
Israeli police also plan to set up barricades near the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to prevent thousands of worshipers from entering.
Moreover, thousands of Palestinian worshipers in the occupied territory will not be able to attend the ceremony, as Israeli Oforces did not issue special transport permits to them.
On Saturday’s service, known also as the “Holy Fire” ceremony, flaming candles will be passed quickly through a crowd during the ceremony, which has been observed by Eastern Orthodox churches for several centuries.
The Israeli government justified its decision as a precautionary move for fear of “violence”, Israel Radio reported.
The Israeli Police believe there could be fighting between rival Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy over conducting the ceremony.
Israeli minister without Portfolio Natan Sharansky has held several meetings over the past few days with church leaders, police and government officials in an attempt to mediate an agreement between the two churches, to no avail.