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Besieged Gaza’s Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas

Unlike western counterparts, Orthodox Christians mark Christmas on January 7

Besieged Gaza’s Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas

By Nour Abu Aisha

GAZA CITY, Palestine

Palestinian Christians in the Gaza Strip celebrated Christmas on Monday, which Orthodox Christians mark on Jan. 7 of each year.

On Monday morning, dozens of Christian families gathered at the Orthodox Christian Church of St. Porphyrius in Gaza City, where they celebrated a Christmas Mass.

Members of the congregation lit candles and read passages from the Bible.

“We celebrate Christmas this year amid the Israel occupation’s ongoing blockade of Gaza,” Kamel Ayyad, head of public relations for the church, told Anadolu Agency.

Israel has imposed a crippling blockade on the Gaza Strip -- by air, land and sea -- since 2006, when Palestinian resistance faction Hamas swept Palestinian legislative elections.

The Israeli authorities, Ayyad lamented, “have refused to allow more than 100 Christians [from Gaza] to visit Bethlehem or Jerusalem for the Christmas holiday”.

He went on to describe the Israeli blockade -- which is about to enter its 13th year -- as "collective punishment" against the Gaza Strip’s roughly two million inhabitants.

According to Ayyad, Palestinian Christians represent “an integral part” of the wider Palestinian nation.

Like their Muslim counterparts, he explained, “Gaza’s Christians also suffer the devastating effects of the blockade and the economic hardships that the blockade brings in its wake”.

Ayyad expressed his wish “that future holidays, both Christian and Muslim, see better conditions for all Palestinians”.

“Someday we hope to celebrate our holidays in Jerusalem, which for now remains occupied by Israel,” the church spokesman added.

Unlike their western counterparts (including Catholics) who celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, Orthodox Christian communities generally mark the holiday on Jan. 7.

Roughly 70 percent of Gaza’s Christians are Greek Orthodox, while the rest belong to the Latin Catholic Church.

According to Christian organizations in Gaza, the coastal enclave’s total Christian population has fallen markedly in recent years -- currently standing at only some 1,100 -- due largely to mass emigration.

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