Bethlehem is celebrating a sombre Christmas as an ever-tighter security wall through the Palestinian community cuts into spirit of the festive events. This was picked up in the Christmas eve address by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, before he led his traditional procession from Jerusalem to the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
“Bethlehem is becoming a prison city” he deplored before leading 5000 Christians, Palestinians and foreign visitors in prayer. He will lead midnight mass here, within the Palestinian’s autonomous zone, but encircled by the Israeli army.
The Israeli army says it has relaxed security to make the Christmas period easier for pilgrims. Palestinians are looking after security in Bethlehem, and have been allowed to carry weapons, but the Israeli army’s checkpoints around Bethlehem are fine-combing anything going in or out.
At least for the first time since 2001 the Palestinian’s leader will be allowed to celebrate the mass. Presidential favourite in the imminent Palestinian election Mahmoud Abbas has said he may attend.