Jerusalem church slams Israeli 'misguided and false' reasons for Easter celebration restrictions
A Greek Church leader in Jerusalem has rejected Israel's excuses for its heavy-handed restrictions on Christian worship at the holy city during a period of Orthodox Easter celebrations, which take place this weekend.
Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem's office said claims by the Israeli police that restrictions on the Holy Light Ceremony were advised by a "church-affiliated safety engineer" were "categorically misguided and false".
It comes as Israel placed limits on the number of worshippers allowed at holy sites in Jerusalem for the Holy Light Ceremony on Easter Saturday.
"The statements issued by the Israeli police, yesterday and today, in regards to the Holy Light Ceremony, are incorrect. They are a complete misrepresentation of the facts and of our clearly stated position," the Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement released Friday morning.
"This engineer was not commissioned or authorised to produce any report on this matter," the statement read.
The Patriarchate said that the engineer changed his report "upon request" of the Israeli police in order to justify their restrictions, before changing the figures back to their original state.
"This, unfortunately, proves a conflict of interest and lack of good faith professionalism on his part, and loss of confidence in his opinions."
The Patriarchate called on Christians to attend the Holy Fire ceremony on Saturday in occupied East Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christians believe Jesus's tomb lies.
Earlier this week, the Status Quo Committee of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Patriarchate also rejected in a joint statement released this Wednesday what they described as the "unreasonable restrictions" by Israeli police for the Holy Light ceremony.
The annual ceremony, during which priests bring a flame from the tomb which they believe sparks miraculously each year, is the most important event in the Orthodox calendar.
In the past, some 10,000 worshippers clutching candles would fill the church, with many more crowding into the surrounding alleys of the Old City, before the flame was flown to Orthodox communities internationally.
The sacred site lies in East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The Israeli police force has for the second consecutive year told church leaders that access must be considerably restricted.
The Israeli police currently insist on limiting the number of people allowed in the church to 1,800 - 1,000 Orthodox, 600 Armenian, and 200 police.
Palestinian worshippers of both Christian and Muslim faiths, as well as their holy places, often come under attack by Israeli forces and settlers in East Jerusalem.