Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Palestinian Christians from Gaza impeded by travel restrictions

Given the circumstances, this wasn't entirely unexpected. Catholic News Service reports that Middle East Christians hoping to see Pope Benedict XVI in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories are facing some travel restrictions:
One week before the pope's May 11 arrival in Israel, some 250 Christians from the Gaza Strip were still waiting to receive an answer about their travel permit requests.

Msgr. Manuel Musallam, pastor of the only Catholic parish in Gaza, said although the requests were made several weeks earlier, by May 4 he had received no response from Israel's Civil Administration authority, which is responsible for issuing the permits.

Most Gaza residents have been unable to leave the Gaza Strip for nearly two years following an Israeli-imposed closure of the border crossings after the Islamic militant group Hamas takeover of the area.

Wadie Abunasser, head of the communications committee for the May 11-15 visit to Israel and the West Bank, said that since the pope is unable to go to Gaza because of security and logistical reasons the church has asked that Christian Gazans be allowed to participate in the May 13 Mass in Bethlehem, West Bank. He has said that time has been set aside for the pope to meet with a group of Christians from Gaza during his visit in Bethlehem.

Another pastor, Argentinean priest Father Jorge Hernandez, says that "Israel has told us it will do its best to issue some 80 permits. These will be for one day and will only be valid for travel to Bethlehem." (Catholic News Agency):
According to the SIR news agency, Father Hernandez said that 250 visas were requested from the Israeli government. “With the reduced number (80), we are in the position of having to choose who to take to Bethlehem. It will not be easy because everybody wants to participate. For now we will only find out about the permits the day before (May 12). This is the ordinary way things are done,” he said.

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