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Egyptian head of Coptic Orthodox Church makes rare Israel trip

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Pope has visited Jerusalem to attend the funeral of a bishop. The religious leader made the visit despite a travel ban to Israel imposed by his predecessor.

Pope Tawadros traveled to Jerusalem to attend a funeral on Saturday, defying a travel ban to Israel that had been put in place by his predecessor.

Tawadros made the visit to honor a senior Coptic official who had passed away. He said his trip should not be seen as an official one, but rather merely as a visit made to "bid farewell to a very important person," the Associated Press reported.

Shenouda III, Egypt's previous Coptic pope, banned worshippers from travelling to Israel, even after the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979.

Defying the ban

Since the death of Shenouda in 2012, however, hundreds of Egyptian Copts have gone on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, exalted as the burial place of Jesus.

Despite this, the church said the ban remains in place. "The position of the church remains unchanged, which is not going to Jerusalem without all our Egyptian (Muslim) brothers," a spokesperson told the AFP news agency on Thursday, the day the pope left for Jerusalem.

The funeral is being held for Archbishop Anba Abraham, the head of the Coptic Church in Jerusalem. He died on Wednesday aged 73.

blc/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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