Intelligence approves Coptic pilgrimage to occupied Jerusalem

Coptic chapel at a church in Cairo, January 2020 (AFP)

Egyptian private sources revealed that General Intelligence officials had given the green light to Egyptian tourist companies organizing Coptic pilgrimage trips to the occupied city of Jerusalem to launch the trips after issuing the necessary security checks and approvals.

Sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, “The officials in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian dossier and the Palestine dossier on the device have recently met with officials of companies that have received licenses to organize these trips and informed them of approvals that remained suspended for several months after being repeatedly suspended for the third year in a row.

Sources added that security approvals remained pending over the last period and there were concerns among companies collecting money from Coptic pilgrims as part of the visit program, and there were fears that companies would not be able to travel pilgrims on time for ta.

Coptic flight schedules to Jerusalem

The first flights are scheduled to depart on April 14, with the last trip to Jerusalem on the 23rd of the same month, while the last return trip will be on May 2.

Egypt and the Israeli government agreed to expand direct flights between the two sides and launch a new line from Ben Gurion (Lod) Airport in Tel Aviv to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on the Red Sea, a line that began operating its. flights in early April.

Shortly after announcing the move early last month, Israeli media confirmed that Cairo was the one seeking to inaugurate that line to add tourists to the city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

According to sources, after the delay in approving and giving the green light to the companies related to the special negotiations with the Israeli side, there were political reasons, in addition to security reasons related to the review of all the names of pilgrims submitted by the companies, emphasizing that about 3000 applied for visas to enter the holy city in preparation for the pilgrimage.

The flights will start on April 14 and end on May 2.

Sources revealed that the political reasons behind the delay in approving the General Intelligence Service were related to negotiations between officials in Egypt and the occupying government regarding tourism cooperation and Cairo’s desire to open alternative markets for Egyptian tourism, following the consequences of Russia. The war in Ukraine, which led to a major setback for the tourism sector. The Egyptian, who was initially and mainly dependent on Russian and Ukrainian tourists, who represented about a third of the total number of tourists coming to the country.

According to sources, the establishment of clear and permanent mechanisms for Coptic pilgrimage trips to Jerusalem was among the various dossiers discussed between Egyptian and Israeli officials over the recent period to expand economic co-operation between the two sides.

The Israeli ambassador, Amira Oron in Cairo, confirmed after the conclusion of the agreement for the inauguration of the direct flight line between Tel Aviv and Sharm el-Sheikh, that “direct flights will strengthen and improve economic, trade and tourist relations between Israel. Egypt and the countries of the region ”.

Sources indicated that the Israeli side had previously submitted the conclusion of an agreement regarding the flow of Israeli tourism to Egypt, with some steps to be taken by Cairo, during the previous talks that took place last September between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the Egyptian president. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Sharm El-Sheikh.

New Egyptian approvals for Coptic pilgrimages come amid sweeping changes in co-operation between the Egyptian and Israeli sides, as a plane with the Egyptian national carrier EgyptAir logo landed for the first time at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on . a flight described by the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority.Historically, last October.

The current period, according to sources, is witnessing intensive contacts and meetings between the Egyptian and Israeli sides, in terms of expanding cooperation relations, emphasizing that officials in Egypt are trying to curb the Israeli-Gulf rapprochement process, further connecting the Israelis. . interests with Egyptian interests, as sources express. At the same time, he unveiled parallel agreements with Palestinian Authority officials regarding arrangements for the visit of Egyptian pilgrims to Jerusalem.

Israeli investments in Egypt

Private sources revealed a meeting held last month at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which included representatives of 9 Israeli companies, officials in the Israeli government’s National Security Council and Egyptian businessmen, which was sponsored by the Egyptian intelligence service, and they discussed options for Israeli investments and projects in Egypt.

Sources describe the meeting as “the beginning of a new page in Egyptian-Israeli relations, which did not enjoy the blessing of officials within some of the sovereign state agencies, especially as it would pave the way for Israel’s incursion into Egyptian society, economically, socially.” and political, in a way that can affect the national security of the country ”.

The Israelis offered to promote tourism in Egypt

Sources said that during the meeting it was finally agreed that the Israeli airlines be given the necessary permits to operate the new flight line between Ben Gurion International Airport and Sharm El Sheikh Airport, starting this April, in addition to discussing the possibility of opening of Israeli investments. in South Sinai.

Sources who spoke to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed revealed that during the Alexandria meeting, representatives of Israeli companies presented their vision for investment opportunities in Egypt and expressed their desire to enter the field of tourism, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula.

Sources said that the Israeli side presented to Egyptian officials the idea of ​​compensating for Ukrainian and Russian tourism, which was going to Sinai by charter flights and stopped due to the war, with Israeli tourists, an idea that was accepted by the Egyptians, especially with the decline of number of tourists they were They are an important source of strong currency. It is worth noting that the Coptic pilgrimage program includes visits to Christian monuments in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection and the city of Nazareth.

The former Coptic Pope, the late Anba Shenouda, had issued something similar to a decision banning Copts from traveling to the occupied lands except with “their Muslim brothers,” he said, and was preceded by a decision by Pope Cyril VI to stop the Copts. visits to Jerusalem in 1967, but Pope Tawadros II confirmed it On more than one occasion after taking office, he expressed his opposition to the decision to prevent Egyptian Copts from visiting occupied Jerusalem, describing the decision as “not good “.

During statements earlier this year, Tawadros said: “There is no objection to visiting Jerusalem, as there has been a Coptic Metropolitan in Jerusalem since the 13th century, and other properties.”

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