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Jerusalem pilgrimage only for brave few

Only the boldest of foreign pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem for the Good Friday procession, which was overshadowed by six months of violence.

A small fraction of the usual thousands walked in the steps of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows, to the site of the Crucifixion, under the gaze of Israeli police officers. Only a smattering of visitors came from western Europe and North America. But pilgrims from more unstable regions such as Indonesia and Latin America kept alive the tradition of braving civil strife to come to Jerusalem.

Hans Kristanko, a member of a 22-strong group from Indonesia, said: "We have so many riots at home. Maybe it is safer for us here." The leader of a group of Hungarian Catholics, Laszlo Galli, said: "For 40 years we were prevented from coming to the Holy Land. A little violence is not going to stop us now."

Tour operators and shopkeepers in Jerusalem's Old City are in despair over the decline in tourism. Easter is the busiest time for visitors from the Orthodox Church, but only 500 of the usual contingent of 5000 from Greece and Cyprus have come.

Visitors were expected in their tens of thousands, as this year is one of the rare times when the Western and Eastern churches celebrate Easter on the same date. Hani Abu-Dayyeh of Near East Tours said: "Business this year is about 10% to 15% of what it usually is at Easter."

The number of Arab Christians from the West Bank was also sharply reduced as many complained that they could not get past Israeli blockades. Israel claimed it had given permits to pilgrims.

Electronic Telegraph