Operating on unspecified allegations of “civil charges,” Palestinian police arrested the spiritual leader of the Syrian Orthodox Church in a move that appears to be the continued persecution of Christians by the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian police in Bethlehem arrested on Saturday Archbishop Sewerios Malki Murad, the spiritual leader of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Palestine and Jordan, Palestinian security sources said.
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported Sunday that Shamiran Ketlo, an eyewitness to the arrest and a Christian herself, said she saw Palestinian police obstructing a parade celebrating Murad’s visit to Bethlehem on the main road to the Church of the Nativity, before taking him into custody.
Murad was returning from a Syrian heritage celebration held at the Bethlehem Convention Palace in al-Khader south of Bethlehem, Ma’an reported.
Palestinian police spokesperson Luay Irzeikat said the Syrian archbishop was arrested over unspecified “civil charges” following a decision by the general prosecution.
Ketlo told Ma’an that members of the Syrian Orthodox Church appealed to Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas to release Murad, who is based in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“Followers of the Syrian Orthodox Church have threatened to leave Palestine and seek refuge in any other country if archbishop Murad is not released,” Ketlo said. Imprisonment of a spiritual leader like Murad leaves Syrian Christians in Palestine feeling unprotected, she added.
A shrinking community of approximately 5,000 Syrian Christians resides in the PA, the descendants of Aramaic-speaking families who fled Ottoman massacres across south-eastern Turkey during the beginning of the 20th century.
In Bethlehem, Syrians are a prominent part of social life. However, since Israel left these areas to Palestinian control, there has been a rapid decline in the Christian population’s size, due to religious persecution and discrimination by the Palestinians.