Thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Christians from the West Bank, the Gaza strip and Israeli territory gathered in the biblical town of Bethlehem on Saturday to begin Christmas Eve celebrations in the traditional birthplace of. Visitors gathered near the 50-foot (15-meter) Christmas tree at Manger Square Saturday morning taking pictures and enjoying the sunshine.
The main event will be Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built over the location where Jesus is believed to have been born, which will be attended by senior clergy and government officials including the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Tens of thousands of pilgrims are in Bethlehem for the occasion.
Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh said he hopes this year's celebrations will bring Palestinians closer to their dream of statehood. Peace talks with Israel are stalled.
Police officers deployed on the main roads and crossroads to keep order and secure parades expected to arrive during the day to the Manger Square and the Nativity Church.
Latin Patriarch of
After greeting the crowd, he will spend a short time in the church performing an annual blessing. Twal will emerge thereafter and wish those waiting outside a Merry Christmas.
Scouts from Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Haifa among other cities have started drumming along Bethlehem’s streets preparing to receive and escort the patriarch.
Bethlehem police say more than 500 police officers have been deployed along the street as several roads are closed to traffic. Medics and ambulances have also been deployed around the square for any emergency.
Loudspeakers blared carols in Arabic, and a Palestinian cleric in a festive purple robe pleaded for peace in the Holy Land and in the wider Middle East.
Activists of the Palestinian National Initiative are distributing pamphlets in Arabic, English, Russian and French calling for boycotting Israeli products. PNI organizer Mazin al-Azza says activists dressed like Santa Claus.
He added that the PNI prepared two Christmas trees, one of which is a replica of the separation wall designed by Palestinian artist Rana Bishara. The second is surrounded with a fence and grenades symbolizing Israeli assaults aginst Bethlehem and other areas.
Meanwhile, The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism expects more than 100,000 tourists to visit Bethlehem by the end of the month for Christmas and New Year holidays.
Minister Khulud Deibes said 50,000 pilgrims would visit Bethlehem on Dec. 24 and 25 for the Midnight Mass and Christmas celebrations. Moreover, she expects the number of tourists to reach 100,000 by the end of the month.
Deibes said that Bethlehem is prepared and that the city celebrates Christmas from December to January. She says the ministry has coordinated with all official sides to make any visit an exceptional experience.
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(Christmas has always been in Bethlehem and it will continue to be)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to ALL
Latin Patriarch of Palestine and Jordan Fuad Twal said: We ask the baby of Bethlehem to give us the peace we really need, peace in all the countries of the Middle East. We demand peace in the Holy Land.