- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

JERUSALEM — The director of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo issued an unusual appeal last week to the public: Stay away.

Vacationers — returning en masse to tourism sites with the ebbing of terrorist attacks — overwhelmed the zoo’s facilities.

The revival of tourism, both internal and from abroad, during the weeklong Passover holiday period was the clearest sign yet of the benefits from a cease-fire in the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000.

Officials said the number of foreign vacationers was 30 percent higher than during the previous Passover holiday, which had even then seen the beginnings of a tourism revival as the barrier being built on the West Bank reduced terror incursions.

The hotel occupancy rate in Jerusalem during this holiday was 85 percent. In the early years of the uprising, or intifada, when Jerusalem was a central target of suicide bombers, hotels were almost empty of foreign tourists and some closed down.

Internal tourism also was badly hit during the intifada years as Israelis preferred not to venture out, particularly to Jerusalem.

This Passover was the first holiday period since the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his succession by Mahmoud Abbas, a pronounced moderate.

Most Palestinian militant groups have declared a temporary truce and, although Israeli security officials warn of attempts by small factions to undertake terror attacks, there is a general sense of increased safety and security.

Jerusalem was the focus of last week’s tourism, particularly internal tourism, as Israelis took the opportunity to visit the city once again.

A new rail line into the capital, a scenic route negotiated by slow trains, was overwhelmed by four times as many travelers as could be accommodated. According to a report on Israel Radio, some animals at the biblical zoo were so intimidated by the mass of visitors that they were reluctant to come out of their caves.

Three years ago on Passover, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed about 30 people at a holiday meal in a hotel in Netanya, prompting a major incursion by Israeli troops into the West Bank. That proved a turning point in the intifada, as Israeli security forces began to get the upper hand.

Holiday tension in Jerusalem over the weekend included Easter celebrations by the Greek Orthodox Church at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site that many Christians, particularly Catholics and Orthodox Christians, believe is built over Christ’s tomb.

Arab members of the church protested the participation of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineos I, whom they accused of selling church property in East Jerusalem to Jewish investors, strengthening Israel’s hold on that part of the city.

Police kept the protesters at bay, permitting Patriarch Irineos to officiate at the colorful ceremony.

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