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World News

Church of Scotland calls for Christmas celebration ban to be lifted for Gaza's Christians

by Tola Mbakwe

The Church Scotland has urged for Israeli authorities to get rid of a ban that prevents Christians in the Gaza Strip from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem for Christmas celebrations.

The Church has said it's "deeply concerned" about the situation.

It said in a statement: "It is estimated that the Christian community of Gaza numbers around 800, amongst a population of 2 million, living in an area the size of the island of Jura.

"Many of Gaza's Christians have family members living in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. The Church of Scotland affirms the right of the indigenous Christian community of Gaza to be able to visit their holy sites.

"It therefore calls on Israel to grant permission so that they may be able to visit and worship freely during this special season of the Christian year."

Last week a spokeswoman for Israel's military liaison to the Palestinians announced Gazans would be allowed to travel abroad via Israel's Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan but not to visit cities in Israel or the West Bank during the festive period.

The Church of Scotland has condemned Israel's move.

The Church added: "Enshrined in Israel's 1948 Declaration of Independence is the guarantee that it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

Rt Rev Colin Sinclair, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, said: "Just as with so many families around the world who take the chance of this season to meet and spend time together, so it is a very special opportunity for those from Gaza to meet with their wider family members, to have time together, and an opportunity to celebrate the coming of the Christ as a child in Bethlehem.

"On behalf of the Church of Scotland, I pray that our brothers and sisters will have such an opportunity this year and urge the government of Israel to grant the necessary permits."

Last year Israel allowed almost 700 Gazan Christians to travel to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy cities around Christmas time.

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