Thousands of Christian pilgrims mark Easter in Jerusalem (With Photos)

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The head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal, swings an incense burner during the Easter Sunday mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s old city on April 4, 2010. Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem’s cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate Easter Sunday at the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial.

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Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem’s cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate Easter Sunday at the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial. Incense filled the air as Western and Orthodox pilgrims packed into the labyrinthine maze of chapels and crypts lit by thousands of candles as services were held at the grotto where Jesus is believed to have risen from the dead.

Women in shawls knelt to kiss the stone where Jesus’s body is believed to have been prepared for burial as bearded monks in long black robes watched over visitors making their way through Christianity’s holiest site.

The centuries-old church is shared uneasily by six denominations of Jesus Christ’s followers – Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.

In previous years Israeli police have had to rush into the church to break up fist fights between rival monks over alleged attempts to alter a delicate status quo hammered out over centuries, but this year calm prevailed.

Israeli police had stepped up security across the walled Old City during holy week, when thousands of pilgrims trace Jesus’s final steps through the winding cobblestone streets of the city.

Israel maintained a general closure of the West Bank imposed for the weeklong Jewish Passover holiday but the military said it issued more than 10,000 permits allowing Palestinian Christians to enter for up to two weeks. Another 500 Christians from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, about a fourth of the territory’s tiny non-Muslim minority, were also granted permits to travel to Israel and the West Bank, according to the military.

The Palestinians have however complained of restrictions, including long waits at the hundreds of checkpoints scattered across the occupied territory.

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Catholic clergy take part in a procession after Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City April 4, 2010.

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Greek Orthodox priests carry an icon depicting the resurrection of Jesus Christ during the Easter Sunday procession outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s old city on April 4, 2010. Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem’s cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate Easter Sunday at the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial.

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Greek Orthodox priests attend the Easter Sunday mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s old city on April 4, 2010. Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem’s cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate Easter Sunday at the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial.

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The head of the Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, leads the Easter Sunday mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s old city on April 4, 2010. Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem’s cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate Easter Sunday at the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial.

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A Catholic pilgrim holds a crucifix and a candle as she attends the Easter Sunday mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s old city on April 4, 2010. Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem’s cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate Easter Sunday at the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial

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Christian nuns pray during an Easter mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected on Easter Sunday, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Sunday, April 4, 2010. Christians are marking the solemn period of Easter.

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A Christian pilgrim participates in an Easter mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected on Easter Sunday, in Jerusalem, Sunday, April 4, 2010. Christians are marking the solemn period of Easter.

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Christian pilgrims have their picture taken prior an Easter mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected on Easter Sunday, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Sunday, April 4, 2010. Christians are marking the solemn period of Easter.

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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Klezemer band members play music and dance with bottles on their heads next to the walls of Jerusalem’s old city during Passover celebrations on April 4, 2010. Tens of thousands of Jews and Christians flocked to their holy sites in Jerusalem to respectively celebrate the Pesach (Passover) holiday and Easter Sunday.

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Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal (C) takes part in the Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old city April 4, 2010.

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A Christian youth kisses a wooden cross outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected on Easter Sunday, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Sunday, April 4, 2010. Christians are marking the solemn period of Easter.

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