U.N. peace envoy criticizes Israeli Easter security at Jerusalem church
Israeli police refused to let the U.N.’s peace envoy to the Middle East, other diplomats and a crowd of Palestinians pass through a barricade to attend a pre-Easter ritual in the Jerusalem church that Christians revere as the burial site of Jesus, the U.N. official said on Saturday.
The incident, following two days of violence at a separate holy site known as a flashpoint for Jews and Muslims, underscored rising tensions in the politically charged city ahead of Pope Francis’s Holy Land visit next month.
Israel dismissed the U.N. complaint, calling it an attempt to inflate a “micro-incident” and saying police at the barricade keep people back as a crowd-control measure while there was no reported violence among the tens of thousands of Christians who thronged to the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem’s old walled city to witness the “Holy Fire” ritual.
Holy Fire is a traditional Orthodox Christian ceremony at which worshippers believe a miraculous fire appears at the site identified as Jesus’s tomb every year on the day before Easter.
Robert Serry, the United Nation’s peace envoy to the Middle East, said in a statement Israeli security officers had stopped a group of Palestinian worshippers and diplomats in a procession near the church, “claiming they had orders to that effect”.
Serry added in separate remarks to Reuters he had waited with Italian, Norwegian and Dutch diplomats for up to a half hour, crushed by a crowd against a barricade, while Israeli officers ignored his appeals to speak with a superior.