Flocking To Bethlehem For Christmas


Thousands of people have gathered to celebrate Christmas at Manger Square in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was born.

Tourists, pilgrims and clergy converged on Christianity's holiest city as boy scouts marching bands played outside the Church of the Nativity.

Candles were lit inside the church, identified by Christian tradition as the site where Jesus was born in a stable two millennia ago.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Tawal, the archbishop of Jerusalem and the Catholic Church's top clergyman in the Holy Land, will conduct mass at midnight local time.

Palestinian policemen have been deployed around Bethlehem to keep the peace.

Although the number of tourists visiting Bethlehem has risen in recent years, many visitors have been put off by the threat of violence and the fact that Bethlehem is now located just inside the Israeli-built separation wall.

Part of the wall, which Israel says is to stop Palestinian suicide bombers from entering the country, cuts through southern Bethlehem, blocking the road to Jerusalem, which is about 5km away.

Visitors to Bethlehem cross through a massive metal gate in the wall to enter the town.

Victor Batarseh, the mayor of Bethlehem, expressed hope for peace ""not only in Bethlehem and Palestine, but all over the world"".