Security was extremely heavy across the West Bank town of Bethlehem as Christmas celebrations got underway in Jesus’ birthplace.
Palestianians are hoping for a peaceful and profitable holiday season at the end of a year that has seen a boom in tourism. A decline in violence has encouraged visitors to return. Pilgrims have flooded into Bethlehem for Christmas, and the hotels are booked solid. The Mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, said: “I hope that today the message of peace that Bethlehem always sends to all the world will prevail over the world and we’ll have peace not only this Christmas, but for the coming years.” Some people are still put off coming to Bethlehem because they have to pass through Israeli checkpoints. Jerusalem’s Latin patriarch, Fouad Twal, is visiting the town. His Christmas message includes a call for a lifting of the blockade of the Gaza strip.