Christians celebrate Easter in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM Polish men in feathered fur hats, Indian women in saris and Palestinian clergy in white and gold robes found shelter from Jerusalem's sweltering heat in the cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City.

The outgoing Roman Catholic leader in the Holy Land, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, criticized both Israelis and Palestinians responsible for the recent bloodshed, including Israeli military operations in Gaza, rocket fire from Palestinian militants and a deadly shooting attack on a Jewish religious seminary.

"Despite this, there are hundreds of thousands in both the Palestinian and Israeli societies who send an outcry: peace, peace," Sabbah, a Palestinian, said in a sermon. "We need leaders who are ready to offer their lives for the sake of peace, not leaders who issue orders to kill and assassinate and send others to kill or to get killed."

Sabbah, 75, and dozens of clergymen in gold-embroidered capes circled the candlelit rotunda where believers say Jesus was buried and then rose from the dead. Stern-faced ushers led the procession, striking the ground with large silver-topped staffs and forcing back the throngs of pilgrims.

Tamera Perry, 39, a high school teacher from Silver City, New Mexico, said she planned to videotape the Easter Mass and send it over the Internet to her church at home, where it would be shown at the Easter service.

"I get a real sense of the surroundings here, being where Jesus walked and walking the hills that he walked," she said.

Israeli security had deployed thousands of officers nationwide to secure events connected with Easter and the Jewish festival of Purim. Security was also high because of Israeli concerns of a possible revenge attack for the assassination of a Hezbollah commander last month in Syria.

Israel denied involvement, but Hezbollah has blamed the Jewish state and threatened to avenge his death with an attack on Israeli targets.

Jeri Minasy, 59, a retired flight attendant from Newnan, Georgia, said the recent bloodshed couldn't deter her from spending Easter in Jerusalem. She called the experience "special, mystic and spiritual."

But she wondered what Jesus would think about the bloodshed. "I think he would be appalled that people can't get along. He would be crying," Minasy said.

Protestants, who venerate a spot outside the Old City known as the Garden Tomb as the site of Jesus' burial, gathered there early Sunday to sing songs accompanied by a rock band. Some raised their hands and swayed to the music.

"We can say that resurrection day was the happiest day in history," Peter Wells, the site's chaplain, told the crowd.

"So once again, the Lord is risen," Wells said. The assembled believers answered in unison: "The Lord is risen indeed, hallelujah!"

Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in Jerusalem on Sunday, marked Easter with a service at the U.S. consulate before setting out for a day of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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