Israeli police will limit the number of worshippers in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem during Orthodox Easter ceremonies on Saturday. The move drew anger from church leaders who said they would not cooperate.
Authorities in Israel have cut the numbers of who can attend Saturday’s Holy Fire ceremony at the Holy Sepulchre Church to just 1,800, a reduction of from 8,200 last year.
The Holy Fire ritual usually takes place amid large crowds.
In the last few days, extra security checkpoints have been erected in the old city.
Israeli police insist they are ensuring safety and freedom of worship, though church representatives are urging Christians to ignore the restrictions. Speaking to the media, Father Mattheos Siopsis said the Greek Orthodox Church would hold the ceremony and invited all who wished to worship with us to attend.
Christian leaders point to the fact that the ceremony has long taken place without any difficulties.
In a joint statement, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate said: “We shall continue to uphold the Status Quo customs, and the ceremony will be held as customary for two millennia and all who wish to worship with us are invited to attend”.
This year, the feeling around religious festivals in the Old City has been remarkably high, with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Jewish Passover holiday and Easter coinciding at a time of increased Israeli-Palestinian tension.
Last week, an Italian tourist was killed, and seven other people injured in a car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv. The attack came after two British-Israeli sisters were killed and their mother injured in a shooting in the West Bank.
Before that, Israel’s forces struck targets linked to Palestinian militant group Hamas inside Lebanon and across the Gaza Strip.
By Nathan Morley