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Quiet Easter In Holy Land

Holy Sepulcher Easter Jerusalem
AP
Pilgrims wept and priests bowed their heads in prayer on Sunday in the church dedicated to the resurrection of Jesus, as thousands of Christians braved Middle East violence to celebrate Easter in the Holy Land.

True believers have been proclaiming for nearly 2,000 years that Easter means resurrection, a time of joy, reports CBS News Correspondent Allen Pizzey. But even as they sang praise for life renewed, the message of the Holy Land remained an eye for an eye.

Israeli tanks answered an attack by Hezbollah guerrillas along the Lebanese border, and on the West Bank...more clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

Turnout at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was sparse, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger. Months of violence kept most pilgrims away. Jim Taylor of Schenectady, New York, was one of the few Americans there, but told CBS News he wasn't worried.

"The risks are very small," he said. "One or two episodes tend to get all blown out of proportion."

"This is the place where Jesus walked, lived and died," said Gene Roll, a pilgrim from Arizona, as he stood in the flagstone courtyard of the Holy Sepulcher.

"This is where the Bible comes alive," said his wife Ann, wearing a jewel-encrusted cross and gazing up at the church which has been burned down and rebuilt during the city's bloody history.

Amid heavy Israeli security, thousands of pilgrims converged on Jerusalem, which is sacred to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Many were happy for the short lines outside the Sepulcher.

They celebrated Easter against the backdrop of six-and-a-half months of a violent Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

At least 376 Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs and 71 other Israelis have been killed in the Intifada that began last September after U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations deadlocked.

Violence has surged as Israel ended its week-long Passover holiday and Christians celebrated Easter weekend.

With Catholic and Orthodox Christians celebrating Easter at the same time this year, the Old City of Jerusalem ought to be jammed with pilgrims and tourists, reports Pizzey.

"How much business have you done in the last week?" he asked a shopkeeper.

"The last week? How about the last six months, since the situation started. Nothing." Replied Karim Taha.

Inside the Holy Sepulcher, the Palestinian patriarch of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land called in his Easter homily for religious unity and an end to deadly military force.

"Many put the emphasis today on the right of the stronger, and on the force which can impose itself, through sieges, bombardments or killings," Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said in an apparent message to Israel.

"All these are means which can destroy houses, kill human persons, but cannot kill the soul of a people, neither wipe off the image of God in any person, nor can it kill our hope."

Pilgrims bore crosses on their backs and spttered themselves with fake blood in the days before Easter as they retraced Jesus' footsteps along the Via Dolorosa, which marks the path where he was scourged and crowned with thorns.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher marks the spot where Jesus died on the cross, was anointed, buried and resurrected.

In the dim upper recesses, pilgrims pressed their lips to the spot where tradition says he was crucified.

Below, they touched their foreheads to the salmon-colored stone that marks the place where many Christians believe Jesus was anointed with spices and shrouded before burial.

Hotels normally bursting at the seams report occupancy rates as low as twenty percent, a potential economic disaster since both sides count tourist dollars here.

A luxury hotel in Bethlehem closed soon after it opened, and around the corner one that did open is no longer fit for guests — a victim of shelling and firefights between Israelis and Palestinians.

"It's enough bloodshed, enough attacking every night, planes, shelling every night," said a carpet merchant. "It's enough. Enough attacking. Enough. Enough. Let Israelis and Palestinians live in peace. It's enough."

Officials say there are fewer pilgrims than in previous Easters because of the uprising.

In front of the columned and decorated tomb where Jesus was buried, priests draped in red and canary yellow robes waved censers on long chains as hymns were sung.

"This is the most sacred place for Christians," whispered Franciscan Father Athanasius, as he watched. "People have been coming here for centuries, no matter what the difficulties."

Israeli police shepherded celebrants around the altar or to watch from balconies. The air was thick with incense.

In front of the church, Israeli police stopped Arab men and checked identity cards, calling in the numbers by radio and holding them until they passed checks.

"The situation is terrible for us," said Palestinian Tarek Kreitan as he entered before Latin High Mass. "I have family who couldn't come from Ramallah and Bethlehem for this."

The Israeli Army said Palestinian pilgrims from Bethlehem had been allowed to cross into Jerusalem for the holiday.

The symbols of the political foes of the uprising were side-by-side in the markets near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Camouflage Israeli Army caps were stacked next to checkered Palestinian keffiyah scarves, both selling for about $5 each.

Palestinian merchant Daoud Bituni said the pilgrims were partisan. "They definitely buy more Palestinian scarves," he said with a grin.

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