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Holy Land: Church workers refused re-entry visas

 The Israeli Government has rescinded its policy of granting re-entry visas to Arab Christian ministers, priests, nuns and other religious workers who wish to travel in and out of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, according to Christian clergy in Jerusalem. Until now, re-entry visas were normally granted in Israel by the Israeli Government to Arab church workers in the Holy Land, and clergy traveled relatively freely to and from points overseas, including the United States. According to the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Arab church personnel will now have to apply for re-entry visas at Israeli consulates abroad each time they travel outside the areas of Israeli control. Since visa applications submitted to Israeli missions abroad are normally not acted upon for months after they are filed, his new Israeli policy means that religious personnel will no longer be able to move freely between their parishes in the occupied territories and any points out side of those areas. Church workers normally travel frequently between their parishes and their churches' offices in Jerusalem. Some also must travel often to countries outside the region, including the United States. Many of the clergy and other church workers in the occupied Palestinian territories are from nearby Jordan; the new Israeli policy will prevent them from visiting their families there. Father Fares Khleifat, a Greek Melkite priest in Ramallah, travelled to Jordan for several days in mid-September. When he tried to return to his parish on September 14, he was stopped at the Israeli border, and his valid, multiple-entry visa was canceled. Forced to remain in Jordan, he has been effectively deported from the Holy Land by the Israeli government, and his parish now has no priest. For more information see: www.hcef.org Source: Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation