Ma'an News Agency
April 1, 2010 - 12:00am

Palestinians, particularly Christians will be barred from entering Jerusalem's Old City and accessing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Saturday, when eastern Orthodox Christians observe Sept An-Nour, or Saturday of light.

Church officials were informed by Israeli police that only international pilgrims would be allowed to access the area, Jerusalem officials said on Wednesday.

Saturday of Light takes place the day before Easter every year. Faithful believe that praying Church leaders are granted the miracle of fire from God after days of fasting and devout worship. Christians line the streets of the Old City in anticipation of the miracle fire, holding bunches of 33 candles, symbolizing the age of Christ when he was crucified.

Worshipers in the church light their candles and spread the fire to waiting pilgrims. Palestinian Christians from across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel gather at the celebration and take the miracle fire back to their homes as a symbol of community, hope and renewal.

The restrictions appear to mean that none of the Palestinian scout bands will be permitted to play at the procession welcoming the fire, and are the latest in a wave or prohibitions targeting Palestinian worshipers in the Easter season. They echo the harsh access limitations placed on Palestinian Muslims during Ramadan last year.

On Palm Sunday, West Bank Christians were prevented from participating in the Triumphal Entry procession, which traces the path believed to have been taken by Jesus on his return to the holy city before his death. Though thousands of West Bankers were granted Easter permits so they could access the area, a Passover closure announced the day before the Jewish holiday began shut down checkpoints for permit holders.

It was unclear whether the restrictions would be in place for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Demonstrations on Palm Sunday saw Christians in Bethlehem march - lead by a donkey - toward the 300 checkpoint that Israeli officials had closed earlier in the day. Protesters took advantage of a brief opening of a gate in the separation wall, and passed through. On the far side the demonstrators were surrounded by Israeli soldiers and 10 were detained, including Abbas Zaki, member of the PLO's Executive Committee. The ten remain in Israeli custody.

Demonstrations continued on Monday, with West Bankers protesting the detention of the peaceful marchers. On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority security officers quashed what would likely have been a third march.

Zaki was set to stand before an Israeli military judge Wednesday, but protests outside the court combined with the PLO official's refusal to recognize the authority of the body resulted in a one day postponement.


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