Christians mark Good Friday in the Holy Land

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By DANIELLA CHESLOW, Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Holy Land commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in prayers and processions on Friday through Jerusalem's Old City.

In the town of Beit Jala, adjacent to Bethlehem, Palestinian Catholics re-enacted Jesus' stations of the cross in their olive groves and vineyards. Father Ibrahim Shomali led the Good Friday procession in Arabic, wearing a white tunic and purple clerical shawl. Dozens of believers followed him, bearing Palestinian flags and olivewood crosses.

Several dozen Palestinian Christians conducted prayers on their farmland this year, which sits between two Israeli settlements and along the route of Israel's planned separation barrier, said Xavier Abueid, a Palestinian adviser, who participated in the prayers there.

The prayers on the farms were conducted to highlight and protest what Palestinians say is Israel's increasing restrictions on Palestinians accessing their lands, particularly in areas abutting the Jewish state and Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian grievances are also echoed by prominent rights groups working in Israel.

Israel's government says it needs to prevent Palestinian access to certain land to prevent clashes in areas where there are poor relations with Jewish settlers. In other places, Israel says it needs the land to build its separation barrier to keep out Palestinian attackers.

For the Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations that observe the new, Gregorian calendar, Good Friday this year coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday, which started at sundown. Orthodox Christians, who follow the old, Julian calendar, will mark Easter a week later.

According to the Gospels, Jesus ate his last supper — a Passover meal — hours before he was betrayed.

In Jerusalem on Friday, Christian pilgrims filled the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the "Way of Suffering." They followed his 14 stations, ending at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Tradition says the church was built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

There are about 110,000 Arab Christians in the Holy land, along with thousands of Christian foreign workers, asylum seekers, and Russian-speaking immigrants.

Christians believe Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday.

In preparation for Passover eve, Israel's army announced a general closure on the West Bank. That means no Palestinians can enter Israel except those needing medical care. The ban will be lifted on Saturday at midnight. It does not apply to the hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews who live in the West Bank.

Israel routinely closes the West Bank during Jewish holidays when crowds in synagogues and other public places are most vulnerable to potential attacks by Palestinian militants.

A decade ago, 29 people were killed on Passover eve as they sat down to a traditional festive meal at a hotel in the Israeli resort of Netanya.

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