Egypt's Coptic pope makes rare visit to Jerusalem

Egypt's Coptic pope makes rare visit to Jerusalem
The Coptic pope has arrived in Jerusalem to attend the funeral of the church's leader in the Occupied Territories as another Palestinian is killed by Israel.
3 min read
26 November, 2015
Egyptian Copts were forbidden from visiting Israel in 1980 by the late pope [Getty]
Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II arrived in Jerusalem on Thursday for the funeral of a senior cleric.

It is the first visit by the head of Coptic Christians to occupied Palestine in decades, the church has said.

He will attend the funeral of Archbishop Anba Abraham, the head of the Coptic Church in the Holy Land, who died on Wednesday at the age of 72.

The church's Facebook page announced his arrival, sharing photos of the pope and his delegation in Jerusalem.

The funeral will take place on Saturday in the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem's Old City, adjacent to the Holy Sepulchre, the church said.

"The visit is to attend the funeral and nothing more," Boulis Halim, spokesperson for the church said, according to al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service.

"The position of the church remains unchanged, which is not going to Jerusalem without all our Egyptian (Muslim) brothers," Halim added.

While the body of his predecessor was returned to Egypt for burial, Abraham specifically requested a burial in the holy city, according to Halim.

"He wrote in his will that he wanted to be buried in Jerusalem," he said.

Egyptian Copts were forbidden from visiting Israel in 1980 by the late Pope Shenouda III, in protest of Israel's occupation of east Jerusalem.

Despite the ban, hundreds of Egyptian Copts have visited Israel over the past few years during the Easter period.

"The Jerusalem travel ban was not only Pope Shenouda's decision but the decision of the entire church's governing body - we will not change our minds on it," Father Gayous told an al-Araby al-Jadeed correspondent earlier this year.

"Some Copts think that with the passing of Pope Shenouda his ban on travelling to Israel has gone too, but his rulings still apply in all cases," the priest added.

      Clashes are ongoing between Palestinians and Israelis [Getty] 

Shenouda passed away in 2012 after leading the Orthodox Church for 40 years.

Copts, the dominant Christian group in Egypt, make up between six and 10 percent of the country's estimated 90 million population.

In Israel, however, the church is one of the smaller of the 13 recognised Christian sects, with only a few hundred families.

The entrance to the Coptic Patriarchate in Jerusalem is one of the 14 Stations of the Cross - the route said to have been taken by Jesus on the day he died.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met with Tawadros II in Egypt earlier this month.

On Thursday, Israeli security forces shot dead a Palestinian they claimed tried to stab Israeli border police in the northern West Bank.

The death brings the number of Palestinians killed in violence since the start of October to 96.

Many have died in clashes with security forces, while others have been alleged perpetrators of a wave of stabbing, shooting and car ramming attacks and subsequently shot dead.

The violence has also left 17 Israelis, a US citizen and an Eritrean dead.

More than 800 Palestinians have been arrested over the past two months, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told public radio on Thursday.