Christians barred from Jerusalem at Easter
Christians in the West Bank have expressed sadness and anger that Israel has stopped them from visiting the traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion to celebrate Easter.
Reports suggest that thousands of Christians are also now leaving the town of Christ's birth and going abroad.
This year, Easter coincided with the most important Jewish holiday of Passover, and Israel enforced a complete closure of the Palestinian Territories, fearing a terrorist attack.
As worshipers from Russia, Greece, India, the Philippines and elsewhere streamed steadily into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, located in the walled Old City, for an estimated 25,000 Christian residents from Bethlehem, it meant another year barred from praying at the Jerusalem Church, which is built on the site where it is believed by some that Christ died and then rose again.
Bethlehem Mayor, Hanna Nasser, who has presided over a city re-occupied by the Israeli army, told the ABC in Australia: "It is depressing because Bethlehem has been closed now for 60 days, complete closure, 60 days. And not a single citizen is able to get out or visit if he doesn't get a permission. And although some of them, although they had permissions, yesterday and before yesterday they turned them, they turned them from the military checkpoints."
Lutheran pastor Mitri Raheb said Israeli authorities again knocked back his application for permits to travel to Jerusalem for Easter.
"We applied now 45 days ago for around 100 people from our members and so far we haven't got yet any permits," he said.
He went on to say that the Christian community were packing up and leaving Bethlehem because of the Israeli occupation. Estimates suggest that 2,000 to 3,000 Palestinian Christians have now gone from Bethlehem to the US, Canada, or Australia.
Part of the problem is what some Palestinians call the "Apartheid Wall" - a "security fence" which Israel began building in 2002. Planned to be 700 km long it has been created to separate Israel from the West Bank.