Jerusalem Church Leader Claims Israel Unfairly Curbing Movement of Palestinians Over Easter

In contrast, an increased number of Gazan Christians have reportedly been granted permits to travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank for the holiday season.

Christian pilgrims hold candles at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the ceremony of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem's Old City, April 14, 2012.

Israel has come under criticism for measures restricting the movement of Palestinians in the days before the Easter holiday.

Yusef Daher, the secretary general of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, the umbrella group of churches in the city, said the restrictions will prevent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from practicing their faith this Easter season, reported the Catholic News Service.

Daher accused Israeli authorities of deliberately limiting access to Jerusalem and said that Palestinians who were due to be issued permits have not yet received them.

Jerusalem has been the scene of regular attacks on Jews over the past several months, and a large number of the assailants have come from the West Bank.

However, a larger number of permits has reportedly been issued this year to Christian residents of the Gaza Strip, enabling them to celebrate the holidays in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The heart of Easter commemorations in the country is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which Christians believe is the site of the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Easter season holy fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has also been a point of contention. Israeli authorities have expressed concern that the event, which involves passing a lit torch from person to person, may present a fire hazard since there is only a single exit from the church, the Catholic News Service reported.

The Christian Post website noted that Israel has granted permission to about 850 Christian residents of the Gaza Strip permits to visit Jerusalem for Easter. "This is the first time such a large number of Christians from Gaza received permits to travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem," the website quoted the spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, Muhammad al-Maqadma as saying.

Since the Hamas Islamist movement seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has imposed a land and naval blockade of the territory, limiting movement in and out of the strip. Egypt currently imposes its own limitations on its border with Gaza.