Israel 'Blocks' UN Envoy from Easter Service
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - A United Nations envoy accused Israel of trying to block him and other diplomats from a pre-Easter "Holy Fire" ritual in the packed Jerusalem church Christians revere as the burial site of Jesus.
The incident following two days of violence at a separate flashpoint holy site for Jews and Muslims, highlighted rising tensions in the city ahead of Pope Francis's Holy Land visit next month.
Israel dismissed the UN official's complaint, calling it an attempt to inflate a "micro-incident" and noting there was no reported violence among the tens of thousands of Christians who thronged to the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem's old walled city, Reuters reported.
Robert Serry, the UN's peace envoy to the Middle East, said in a statement that Israeli security officers had stopped a group of Palestinian worshippers and diplomats in a procession near the church, "claiming they had orders to that effect".
Serry added in separate remarks to Reuters news agency he had waited with Italian, Norwegian and Dutch diplomats for up to a half hour crushed by a crowd against a barricade, while Israeli officers ignored his appeals to speak with a superior.
"It became really dangerous because there was a big crowd and I was pushed against a metal fence the police put up there, the crowd tried to push really hard," Serry said, adding they might have been trampled had police not finally let them pass.
"I don't understand why this happened," he added. "I'm not saying I felt my life was in imminent danger, but this wasn't something you associate with a peaceful procession for Easter."
Charging "unacceptable behaviour from the Israeli security authorities," Serry demanded in his statement that all parties "respect the right of religious freedom".