Tens of of thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world annually flood the city of al-Quds during Holy Week (the week preceding Easter,) to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, an ancient structure built over the spot Christians believe to be the tomb of Jesus Christ and one of the most sacred spots in Christendom.
This year, however, a heavy Israeli police presence has prevented the vast majority of Christian pilgrims, including West Bank-based Palestinian Christians, from reaching the church to pray and attend the ceremonies within, a Press TV correspondent reported on Saturday.
Palestinian Christians from the West Bank rarely make the pilgrimage to al-Quds because Israel does not allow them into the holy city.
Christian pilgrims anxious to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were met instead by a phalanx of Israeli police check points -- both at the gates of the Old City, and inside.
The Israeli checkpoints, manned by at least a thousand Israeli policemen, imposed even more restrictions than usual on the crowds of worshippers, preventing many of them from attending the ceremonies.
Israel has denied free access to holy places of worship to both Christians and Muslims, on several important occasions.
Holy Saturday follows Good Friday and precedes Easter Sunday. According to mainstream Christian beliefs, Holy Saturday commemorates the day when the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb, after his crucification and death on the preceding day, which is known as Good Friday. They maintain he was resurrected on Easter Sunday.
The Holy Saturday vigil culminates with the lighting of a taper kindled by the sacred fire -- an eternal flame, which burns over an altar in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The priest's taper is then used to light the thousands of individual candles held by the worshippers. The lighting of the taper symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The light from the sacred fire is then sent to Amman, Damascus, Beirut and capitals throughout Europe.