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Thousands Attend Palm Sunday Celebrations in Jerusalem Against Backdrop of War

Christians walk in the Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives in east Jerusalem on Sunday, March 24, 2024. Credit - Ohad Zwigenberg—AP

JERUSALEM — Thousands of Christian faithful attended Palm Sunday celebrations at Jerusalem’s sacred Mount of Olives, marking the first day of Holy Week as conflict surges across the region.

Pilgrims waved branches and fronds in the air, items that were placed before Jesus’ feet as he was greeted by cheering crowds during his entrance into Jerusalem, according to the Bible. Earlier Sunday, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre — revered as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion — also held a service.

The annual celebration came as the Israel-Hamas war rages on in Gaza. However, the conflict appeared to have had little effect on the procession, which swelled to a similar size as last year.

“Although there is war, in my impression I don’t feel any kind of tension,” said David Manini, a pilgrim from Italy.

The celebration marks the beginning of the most somber week in the Christian calendar, which marks Jesus' crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter.

“I’m here because I love Jesus Christ,” said Jennifer Weedon, who traveled form the United States for the occasion.

Since the war erupted, Israel has seen a huge downturn in tourism. The war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants from Gaza invaded southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage. Israel has responded with an air and ground war that has left more than 32,000 Palestinians dead, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

One of the placards held by a pilgrim read, “Save us lord. The Church of Saint Porphyrius and Holy Family Church, Gaza.”

In late October, Palestinian health officials said that an Israeli strike hit St. Porphyrios, a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza where displaced Palestinians were sheltering, killing 18 people.

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