Pax Christi appeal: 'open Bethlehem for Christmas'

 On 12 December the Israeli president Moshe Katsav made a visit to the Vatican. Pope John Paul appealed to the Israeli President for " free access to Bethlehem, because of the forthcoming Christmas celebrations". Pax Christi International now is repeating the Pope's appeal - asking people to pray for peace and write to the Israeli ambassador, and the media, regarding the on-going crisis in Bethlehem. For the third year in a row, Christmas celebrations will take place in a climate of fear for all the peoples in the Holy Land. This climate of fear results from the continuing violence by both sides - occupation, suicide bombings and military operations - violence which causes great suffering for the local population and greatly reduces any prospects for a just and peaceful solution of the conflict. Earlier this month, Pax Christi made an appeal on behalf of the Muslim community. The reoccupation overshadowed their celebrations for the end of Ramadan. Since the end of November Israeli troops have reoccupied areas in and around the city in response to a suicide attack in Jerusalem in which eleven people died. The perpetrator was a resident of Bethlehem. Israeli authorities subsequently imposed a street curfew and the city is now almost a closed zone. Pax Christi and its partner organisations in the region are appealing for an immediate end to these restrictive measures, calling them violations of international legal protection of the right of religious freedom and the right to free access to holy places. Pax Christi calls the reoccupation and curfew a "form of collective punishment" since the strictures were imposed as a result of only one person's actions. Collective punishment is forbidden under international humanitarian law. Pax Christi is calling for free access to Bethlehem and the Holy Places and a guarantee of the right of religious freedom. The address of the ambassador is: His Excellency The Ambassador, Israeli Embassy, 2 Palace Green, London W8 4QB Tel 020 7957 9513 email

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