02/19/2004, 00.00
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Pilgrims no longer limited to travel through Judea and Samaria

Rome (AsiaNews) –There are no longer problems and obstacles for pilgrims wanting to reach Bethlehem and the Occupied Territories. Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, Oded Ben Hur, told AsiaNews today that the Tel Aviv airport no longer passes out leaflets stating that visits to the Occupied Territories are limited and that it has "returned to previous procedures".     

Last Jan. 22 AsiaNews reported that Tel Aviv airport military personnel handed out leaflets to pilgrims wanting to travel to the Occupied Territories (Bethlehem, Jericho, Emmaus, Qumran, etc.), informing them they needed special authorization to visit these places.    

Military authorities were given the final authority to grant permission or not. Israeli sources confidentially told AsiaNews the procedure risked stopping tourism in the Holy Land.

The Ministry of Tourism, worried about the procedure's consequences on the flow of tourism (which was already tested by problems with terrorism and Israeli-Palestinian tension), attempted to put the brakes on requiring such special authorizations.  

Yesterday, Feb. 18. the Israeli tourism minister, Raphael Ben Hour, issued a statement in Hebrew, asking "to get rid of the leaflet informing tourists that their travel to Palestinian Authority territories , in Judea and Samaria, was prohibited."

In the statement he said "instructions have been given to border police to stop passing out the leaflet …at Ben Gurion airport" so that "tourist travel to Judea and Samaria will be permitted according to the rule and norms" of the past. In his statement he makes no mention of Gaza, which has been placed under tight control following the latest terrorist attacks."

During a telephone call with AsiaNews, Ambassador Oded Ben Hur said "all this (the leaflet and its stipulated travel restrictions) was a mistake and we have corrected it."  

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