Israeli police's announcement this week it will be limiting the number of worshippers allowed to attend Orthodox Easter ceremonies in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher drew vocal criticisms from church leaders, but an internal document obtained by Ynetnews indicates that the decision was signed off on by church officials.
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Church officials have stated that the police plan to permit only 1,800 worshippers to enter the church, with an additional 200 allowed to pray in the outer courtyard, cutting the total number of participants to one-fifth of previous years.
Christian leaders in the capital blasted authorities for restricting access to the Holy Fire, the most important Easter celebration for the Eastern Orthodox Church, with security concerns given as the reason for the crowd cap.
However, an internal document by the Common Technical Bureau of The Holy Sepulchre Church shows that the given outline had been approved by the site's safety engineer.
The Holy Fire is a significant Christian ceremony held annually in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by Eastern Orthodox churches.
According to tradition, the Holy Fire is a proposed miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Great Saturday, the day before Orthodox Easter.
This ritual is regarded as the most significant in Eastern Church ceremonies, with millions of people across the globe tuning in to watch the event take place in Jerusalem.
The sensitivity around religious festivals in the capital's Old City has been particularly high this year with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Jewish Passover holiday, and Easter all coinciding during a time of heightened Israeli-Palestinian.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is expected to hold prayers just one day after the final Friday of Ramadan.
Additionally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that Jewish visitors would be prohibited from visiting the Temple Mount during the final ten days of Ramadan after a police raid last week that sparked anger across the Arab world and led to cross-border exchanges with Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria.
Sources from the city's religiously sensitive eastern part, predict heightened tensions in the coming days due to the dispute between the Jerusalem Police and church officials over the authorization of Holy Fire prayers.
After the police's announcement, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate issued a statement opposing the Jerusalem Police's decision and demanding the removal of what they deem to be "heavy-handed" and "unnecessary" restrictions, demands also echoed by the heads of the Roman Orthodox Church, the Latin Church, and the Armenian Orthodox Church.
Dmitri Deliani, head of the Christian National Assembly, even threatened to "forcefully enter the [church] in front of foreign cameras" in protest.
"This is not an agreement, as the police claim, but an arbitrary decision of theirs, under the new [National Security Minister], Itamar Ben-Gvir," he said, adding that "this is a political and arbitrary decision that has no place" and that for decades, the police have allowed over 10,000 worshipers to take part in festivities.
The Jordanian Foreign Ministry called to respect the status quo in the holy places and warned Israel against imposing restrictions on the movement of Christian worshippers for the Holy Fire celebrations.
The Monitoring Committee of the Arabs of Israel said that it opposed "the blockade imposed on all Palestinians and not only on the Muslims in Al-Aqsa."
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahum, who holds the foreign relations portfolio in the city stated: "In recent years, I have noticed an increase in attacks against the sovereignty of Israel in Jerusalem from among some of the heads of the churches in Jerusalem.
It should be noted that the State of Israel is doing everything to allow the freedom of worship for all religions in the city. Any claim that Israel infringes on freedom of worship is false. Critics should be directed to the report of the Greek engineer of the Church of the Sepulcher, who, for public safety purposes, determined the number of participants in the ceremony."
Ran Yishai, head of the Jerusalem Center for Applied Policy of Keep Jerusalem – Im Eshkachech, which monitors the geopolitical reality in East Jerusalem, said: "Once again we see how subversive elements take advantage of the lack of knowledge of the international community to damage the sovereignty of the State of Israel in Jerusalem."
Im Eshkachech founder and Chairman Chaim Silberstein added: "The spreading of slander and lies and the demonization of Israel must be stopped and the perpetrators punished. Such lies constitute a direct attack on Israel and can incite violence, putting human lives at risk."
Meanwhile, Hamas urged Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank to join in the dawn prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday to mark "Jerusalem Day", an annual demonstration of solidarity with the Palestinians initiated by Iran.