Mideast: Israeli ban on papal refugee camp visit sparks criticism

Bethlehem, 24 April (AKI) - The governor of the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Friday condemned Israel's attempts to prevent Pope Benedict XVI from visiting the Aida refugee camp during his upcoming trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

According to governor Salah at-Tamari, Israel's refusal to allow the pope to visit the camp are proof the country wants to hide its "repressive practices against Palestinians," from the pontiff, said Palestinian news agency Maan.

On Thursday, the Israeli army stormed the camp and raided a meeting of the preparatory committee for the Papal visit.

Committee members were allegedly harassed and questioned by the army. They were informed that because the camp is located in the so-called "Area C" - which means is under Israeli civil and military control - the organisers must get a special permit to hold celebrations for the pope.

At-Tamari said the Aida camp is included in the pontiff's tour because it shows the conditions that many Palestinians live in.

The Aida camp was established in 1950 between the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala. According to the United Nations Relief Works Agency, the camp is severely overcrowded and has a population of 4,456 inhabitants. At least 478 families in the camp receive emergency food rations.

In total, there are 19 refugee camps in the West Bank and eight in the Gaza Strip holding more than one million people.

Pope Benedict XVI is to make his first official visit to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories in May.

Benedict will begin his visit in Jordan and will then travel to Israel where he is expected to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He will celebrate mass in Jerusalem, in the Israeli city of Nazareth and the West Bank city of Bethlehem.


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