Jerusalem Police Step Up Safety Measures Ahead of Easter

Christian organizations in the West Bank say access to Jerusalem is too limited.

With the calendars of Eastern and Western Rite churches aligning this year, Christians the world over will celebrate Easter Sunday this week. Ahead of the holiday, churches will hold Good Friday services to mark Jesus' crucifixion and burial.

As Easter Sunday approaches, Jerusalem police are at a heightened state of alert. Police officers, ambulances and fire crews will be deployed in the alleyways around the Old City and near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to ensure that holiday processions are carried out without problems.

As Holy Week began this week, however, Christian institutions and public figures from the Palestinian Authority spared no criticism of Israel's policy of limiting entry to Jerusalem's holy sites, limitations they described as violations of their freedom to worship.

Christian organizations in the West Bank claim only 3,000 were granted for pilgrims to enter Jerusalem over the Easter holiday, but Israel says it has approved 10,000 permits. Even those who received permission, the Christian organizations said, are struggling to reach the ceremonies due to the closure.

"Christians around the world can celebrate Easter, but for Palestinian Christians, the Israeli occupation has turned every day into Good Friday, and we're still waiting for our resurrection as a free people," said Father Firas Aridah of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Aridah accused Israel of using security concerns as a pretext to limit the movement of his community.

Security regulations affect not only West Bank Christians, but also believers from Jerusalem and Israel proper. Mazen Qupty, a Jerusalem-based attorney who represents Christian Orthodox institutions, said Christians enjoyed far greater freedom of movement until three years ago.

"Over the past few weeks we've had meetings with Jerusalem Police to change entry regulations for pilgrims, but to no avail," he said.

Ahead of Holy Saturday tomorrow, Jerusalem police held meetings with the heads of various Christian denominations to coordinate security guidelines.

Jerusalem District Police Chief Aharon Franco will decide today whether to limit Muslim worshippers wishing to attend Friday prayers today on the Old City's Temple Mount.