Tourist firms organize Coptic pilgrimage to Jerusalem despite Church ban
Israeli police officers take positions on the roof of al-Aqsa mosque during clashes with Palestinians in Jerusalem's Old City September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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CAIRO: A total of 26 tourist companies announced they are organizing pilgrimage trips for Coptic Christians from Egypt to Jerusalem despite of the ban imposed by the Orthodox Church since 1979.

The first flight will operate this coming Friday, said Sabry Yani, member from Board of Directs of the Egyptian Travel Agents’ Association Monday.

The companies will organize 11 flights over three days for 5,500 Copts, he told Youm7, adding that the flights will take off from Cairo International Airport on boards of Air Sinai planes. He said the flights are for a religious purpose and “away from any kind of normalization with Israel.”

However, the Orthodox Church’ stance over flights to Jerusalem is “constant and unchangeable,” Church spokesperson Priest Paul Halim told Youm7, adding that Church does not give permissions except for the elderly people who have desire to perform pilgrimage.

Late Pope Shenouda banned Christians from traveling to Israel in “unless with Muslims when it is liberated” from Israeli occupation. The ban was issued after late President Anwar al-Sadat, who was at odds of Pope Shenouda, signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

According to Christian tradition, Coptic Christians are allowed to perform pilgrimage during the Holy Week, the week before the Easter, starting from April 22 to 30.

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