HAIFA – A looming visit by Pope Francis to Al-Quds (Occupied Jerusalem) later this month has been facing huge protests by ultra-orthodox Jews, shedding light on negative consequences of the increasing anti-Muslim and Christian hate crimes in the holy city.
"This wave of extremist actions of terror, are surely a grave concern to all reasonable persons," Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Palestinian archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, said in a statement obtained by UPI on Monday, May 12.
"The government of Israel must be concerned, because it is very bad for the State of Israel's image abroad."
Pope Francis is due to visit the holy land from May 24-26. His first stop will be in the neighboring Jordan.
Before leaving, the Pope will hold a mass in the disputed religious site of the Upper Room or Cenacle.
The site, which is important for Muslims, has been disputed for decades by Israel and the Vatican.
While Christians believe Jesus held the last supper in the Cenacle, Jewish tradition says the floor below is the burial site of King David.
“When ‘the crusaders’ come here making the sign of the cross and all kinds of rituals, this place will become idolatrous for us, and we will not have the right to pray there anymore,” ultra-Orthodox Jewish protester Yitzhak Batzon told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday, May 12.
“As soon as they touch the ‘status quo’ of this place, bad things will happen,” said Rabbi Avraham Goldstein.
The Ultra-Orthdox rabbi has claimed that the Israeli government has intentions to hand the Cenacle to the Vatican, announcing plan for further protests next May 22.
In 2009, former Pope Benedict XVI made a several-day visit to the holy lands. His tour included visits to el-Bouraq Wall and Bethlehem.
He also visited the Dome of the Rock Mosque inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third-holiest shrine in Islam, on May 12, becoming the first Vatican Pope to do so.
Ahead of Pope's visit, Jews have escalated their hate crimes against Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
The soaring numbers of hate crimes by Jews prompted calls by Patriarch Twel to arrest the vandals.
"The unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere – the atmosphere of co-existence and the atmosphere of collaboration, especially in these two weeks prior to the visit of Pope Francis,” Twal, the Palestinian archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, told UPI.
"It is also a plight on the democracy that Israel ascribes to itself,” he told a news conference in the northern port city of Haifa.
A wave of hate crimes have hit several Islamic and Christian sites in the holy city, leaving a number of mosques and churches defaced by offensive graffiti.
Last week, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a statement to express rising concerns.
"The bishops are very concerned about the lack of security and lack of responsiveness from the political sector, and fear an escalation of violence,” statement issued on Wednesday, May 7, read.
Al-Quds is home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam's third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israel captured and occupied Al-Quds in the six-day 1967 Middle East war, then annexed it in a move not recognized by the world community or UN resolutions.
The city is home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
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