Air Sinai has launched a new route on Friday to shuttle Coptic Christians between Egypt and Israel, allowing pilgrims to visit their most holy sites for the first time in decades, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
The development comes in the wake of the death of Patriarch Shenouda III, the head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, who for decades prohibited Copts from traveling to Jerusalem and other sites due to the "Israeli occupation."
According to sources at Cairo International Airport, 208 Coptic Christians arrived in Israel on Friday, and were expected to visit Christian holy sites ahead of Easter, celebrated on April 15.
The 88-year-old patriarch passed away last month. A staunch opponent of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, he repeatedly claimed that "Christians should only visit Jerusalem hand in hand with their Muslim brothers."
Senior officials of the Coptic Church maintain that the travel ban is still in effect, telling Egyptian media that anyone who violates the restriction will be punished.