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Pope calls for free access to holy sites in Jerusalem

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday called for free access to the holy sites in Jerusalem as he delivered his annual Easter address amid simmering violence between Zionists and Palestinians in the Holy City. “May there be peace for the Middle East, racked by years of conflict and division. On this glorious day, let us ask for peace upon Jerusalem and peace upon all those who love her, Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.

May Zionists, Palestinians and all who dwell in the Holy City, together with the pilgrims, experience the beauty of peace, dwell in fraternity and enjoy free access to the Holy Places in mutual respect for the rights of each,” he said. Clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Zionist police wounded more than 20 protesters on Sunday morning in and around Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the site of major clashes two days earlier, police said.

The latest tensions in Jerusalem come as all three Abrahamic faiths mark major festivals: Jewish Passover, Christian Easter and the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Weeks of mounting tensions saw two deadly attacks by Palestinians in or near Zionist coastal city of Tel Aviv in late March and early April, alongside mass arrests by Zionist forces in the occupied West Bank.

Violence rages

More than 20 Zionists and Palestinians were wounded in several incidents in and around Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, two days after major violence at the site. The latest clashes take the number of wounded since Friday to more than 170, at a tense time when the Jewish Passover festival coincides with Ramadan. They also follow deadly violence in Zionist entity and the occupied West Bank in late March and early this month that has killed 36 people.

Early on Sunday morning, “hundreds” of Palestinian demonstrators inside the mosque compound started gathering piles of stones, shortly before the arrival of Jewish visitors, police said. Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray at the site, also known as Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam. The police said its forces had entered the compound in order to “remove” the demonstrators and “re-establish order”.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 19 Palestinians were wounded, including at least five who were hospitalized. It said some had been wounded with rubber-coated steel bullets. An AFP team near the entrance to the compound early Sunday morning saw barefoot Jewish worshippers leaving the site, protected by heavily armed police. Outside the Old City, in Zionist-annexed East Jerusalem, Palestinian youths threw rocks at passing buses, resulting in seven people being treated for light wounds at Shaare Zedek hospital, the medical facility said.

Senior Palestinian official Hussein Al Sheikh said Sunday that “Zionist dangerous escalation in the Al-Aqsa compound … is a blatant attack on our holy places”, and called on the international community to intervene. The chief of the Hamas Islamist movement which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza meanwhile warned Zionists that “Al-Aqsa is ours and ours alone”. “Our people have the right to access it and pray in it, and we will not bow down to repression and terror,” Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement.

Later Sunday morning, mosques in Palestinian neighborhoods of annexed east Jerusalem broadcast calls for people to head towards the Al-Aqsa compound. Weeks of mounting tensions saw two deadly attacks by Palestinians in or near the coastal city of Tel Aviv in late March and early April, alongside mass arrests by Zionist forces in the occupied West Bank.

A total of 14 people have been killed in attacks against Zionists since March 22, including a shooting spree in Bnei Brak, an Orthodox Jewish city in greater Tel Aviv. Twenty-two Palestinians have been killed over the same period, including assailants who targeted Zionists, according to an AFP tally. On Friday morning, police clashed with Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa compound, including inside the Al-Aqsa mosque, drawing strong condemnation from Muslim countries. Those clashes wounded some 150 people.

The United Nations has called for calm, a year after clashes in and around the mosque compound escalated into an 11-day war between Zionists and Palestinian militants in Gaza. Despite the tensions, a few streets away from the Al-Aqsa compound hundreds of Christians staged a noisy parade through the alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City to mark Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where they believe Jesus was crucified. Marching bands led the processions with drumming and bagpipes, before worshippers gathered in the cavernous church for mass.

In another development, Pope Francis on Sunday called for peace in Ukraine during this “Easter of war” as he delivered the traditional Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi address on St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. “May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” the pontiff said. “Our eyes, too, are incredulous on this Easter of war,” he said. “May the leaders of nations hear people’s plea for peace.” “Let there be a decision for peace. May there be an end to the flexing of muscles while people are suffering.

“Our hearts, too, have been filled with fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away in order to be safe from bombing,” Francis said. The pontiff pointed that two years of the coronavirus pandemic had taken “a heavy toll.” “It was time to come out of the tunnel together, hand in hand, pooling our strengths and resources. Instead, we are showing that we still have within us the spirit of Cain, who saw Abel not as a brother, but as a rival, and thought about how to eliminate him.”

Pope said he held “in my heart all the many Ukrainian victims, the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, the divided families, the elderly left to themselves, the lives broken and the cities razed to the ground. “I see the faces of the orphaned children fleeing from the war.” And he continued: “May the conflict in Europe also make us more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering and sorrow, situations that affect all too many areas of our world, situations that we cannot overlook and do not want to forget.” – AFP

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