Aarsena Air Company in Egypt launched Friday airlifts between Egypt and Israel to transfer hundreds of Egyptian Coptic pilgrims to Christian landmarks in Jerusalem for the first time. The move comes in the wake of the death of Pope Shenouda III, who banned pilgrimages to Jerusalem due to the Israeli occupation.In reaction, Coptic leaders in Europe reaffirmed their opposition to any Copts traveling on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, saying that this was a church-wide decision, not a personal ban by Pope Shenouda III.
The airlift is the first of its kind to transport Egyptians to Israel since the signing of the peace treaty between the two countries in 1979. One or two flights will depart daily on an aircraft with 104 seats, said Cairo International Airport officials.
The sources added that two flights bound for Jerusalem left Friday carrying 104 passengers each and that no obstacles faced them.
The Coptic passengers are scheduled to spend several days sightseeing at Christian landmarks in Jerusalem, in the context of celebrating Easter on 15 April.
Pope Shenouda III banned Coptic travel to the city of Jerusalem, and said more than once: “The Copts will not travel to Jerusalem, except in the company of their fellow Muslims.”
It looks like there was a lot of pent-up desire by Egyptian Copts to visit anyway.
In wake of reports of the first plane-loads of pilgrims Thursday, Coptic officials said that "the Church is a religious institution that does not control the freedom of individuals does not impose laws on them." The Deputy Catholic Patriarch of the Catholic Church likewise said that the church does not interfere in the affairs of individuals, it is an institution of worship and can not track the movement of people and does not interfere in individual affairs.
It looks like Aarsena Air was set up to do only a shuttle between Egypt and Israel for the pilgrims.