Palestinian police in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem arrested on Saturday the spiritual head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Palestine and Jordan, Palestinian security sources said.
Eyewitness and follower of the Syrian Orthodox Church Shamiran Ketlo told Ma’an via telephone that she saw Palestinian police obstructing a parade celebrating Archbishop Sewerios Malki Murad’s visit to Bethlehem on the main road to the Church of the Nativity and took him into custody.
Murad was returning from a Syrian heritage celebration held at the Bethlehem Convention Palace in al-Khader south of Bethlehem.
Spokesperson for the Palestinian police Luay Irzeikat confirmed that the Syrian archbishop has been arrested over civil charges following a decision by the general prosecution, without giving further details.
Ketlo told Ma’an that followers of the Syrian Orthodox Church appeal to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to release Murad, who is based in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City.
“Followers of the Syrian Orthodox Church have threatened to leave Palestine and seek refuge in any other country if archbishop Murad is not released,” said Ketlo. Imprisonment of a spiritual leader like Murad leaves Syrian Christians in Palestine feeling unprotected, she added.
According to Middle East Eye, a shrinking community of approximately 5,000 Syrian Christians reside in the Palestinian Territory, who are descendants of Aramaic-speaking families who fled southeastern Turkey in the 1910s.
In Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Syriacs are a prominent part of social life. However since the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 when hundred of Syrian Christians were expelled from their homes and businesses, the Syriac quarter of Jerusalem's Old City has been absorbed by the Jewish quarter.