Thousands celebrate Palm Sunday in Jerusalem amid war in region

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Thousands of Christians celebrated Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, kicking off the first day of Holy Week while the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas persists in the region.

Swarms of the faithful attended the traditional procession on the Mount of Olives on Sunday, carrying palm fronds and olive branches to mark the Biblical story of Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem days before he was betrayed and crucified. Palm fronds and olive branches are the items believed to have been placed at Jesus’s feet during his entrance, according to the Bible.

Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre — believed to be the place of Jesus’s Crucifixion and his tomb — held a service earlier in the day, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Also called Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the most sacred and somber week of the Christian year. Later this week on Friday, Christians will mark Good Friday — a commemoration of Jesus’s Crucifixion and death at Calvary — and next Sunday, Easter will mark his resurrection.

Palm Sunday typically begins with the clergy blessing the palms and a reading of the Passion of Christ, which details the final major moments in Jesus’s life, per The Associated Press. Christian pilgrims will carry the palm fronds and olive branches and march from the top of the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem’s historic Old City, the news wire added.

The celebration comes as fighting rages on between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which is roughly a one-hour drive from Jerusalem. More than 32,000 Palestinians have died since early October, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

The war began more than five months ago following a surprise assault by Hamas against Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 were kidnapped. Israeli forces have vowed to eliminate the threat of Hamas from the region and argue a permanent cease in fighting would equal a victory for the group, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

The nearby violence did not appear to hamper Sunday’s celebrations, the AP reported.

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

“I’m here because I love Jesus Christ,” said Jennifer Weedon, who traveled from the U.S., per the AP.

A pilgrim on Sunday held a placard that read, “Save us lord. The Church of Saint Porphyrius and Holy Family Church, Gaza,” the news wire added.

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