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Israel: Gaza Christians banned from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem for Christmas

Permit quotas for Palestinian Christians in Gaza were published by the Israeli military unit of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) on Thursday.

The occupied West bank and Israel, where many family members and significant religious sites are located will be off limits to Gazan Christians over the festive period, according to a spokeswoman for Israel's military liaison to the Palestinians.

In addition, Christian residents under the age of 45 will not be permitted to travel abroad while only 100 international permits have been granted to those above that age.

The territory which is home to some 1,000 Christians has been under the control of Islamic group Hamas since 2007 and movements out of the area have been strictly restricted by Israel as a result.

Reuters reports the spokeswoman said that following "security orders", 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.

The decision is in contrast to Israeli policies implemented last year which permitted close to 700 Gazan Christians to travel to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy cities during the festive period.

The number of holiday permits issued to Gazan Christians has continued to decrease in recent years.

Commenting on this downward trend, Israeli rights group, Gisha, said it "points to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, a deepening of Israel's "separation policy".

Jerusalem Christian leaders have reportedly condemned the move and are campaigning to see the decision reversed.

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