AFP
Last updated: 19 December, 2011

Israel eases Christmas movement for Palestinian Christians

The Israeli army announced Monday special measures to ease the movement of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from now till into January to allow for seasonal celebrations.

The West Bank Christians will be allowed to visit Israel in the period up to January 20 without any age limitations, the army said in a statement, without saying how many would be allowed in.

Four hundred permits for Palestinian Christians will also be handed out for travel abroad, via the international Ben Gurion airport, “subject to security controls”.

A further 500 permits will be given to Christians in the Gaza Strip to enter Israel and the West Bank for family visits and to take part in religious ceremonies over the Christmas period.

However these will only be available to the under 16s and the over 45s, the army statement said.

Finally 200 permits will be made available to Christians in Arab countries wishing to visit the West Bank.

The special allowances will be available to both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, who celebrate Christmas on different dates.

The Jewish state is not letting up on its ban, for all but the most special cases, on travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the two divided parts of the Palestinian territories.

There are some 143,000 Christians in Israel, according to official figures, representing just over two percent of the population.

There are some 57,000 Christians in the Palestinian territories, most belonging to the Greek-Orthodox church.