Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church (Photo: Reuters)
Coptic Pope Tawadros II, who is currently in Jerusalem, has turned down an invitation by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the city of Ramallah, saying he won't "visit" the Palestinian land without the country's most senior Muslim leader.
The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church arrived in Jerusalem Thursday for the funeral of a senior cleric in the first visit of its kind in decades.
The visit has been criticised by many Egyptian Copts, who were banned from visiting Israel by the late Pope Shenouda III in 1980, in a move to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Pope Tawadros said that his trip to attend Saturday's funeral of Archbishop Anba Abraham, head of the Coptic Church in the Holy Land, was a "human duty" to extend condolences rather than visit Jerusalem or its environs.
In a statement by the Church Saturday, the pope stressed that "he won't enter the Palestinian lands or Jerusalem as a visitor without the company of Al-Azhar's Grand Imam."
Al-Azhar, headquartered in the Egyptian capital Cairo, is Sunni Islam's highest authority of learning.
The issue of visiting Jerusalem has for years stirred debate among Egyptian Coptic Christians, with hundreds travelling to Jerusalem over the past few years for Easter pilgrimage.
A spokesman for the church said this week that "the position of the church remains unchanged, which is not going to Jerusalem for all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians."