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Christians Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem


It is a festive Christmas Eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Palestinian boy and girl scouts marched through Manger Square in Bethlehem, kicking off Christmas Eve celebrations. They marched past the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, with Palestinian flags waving overhead.

Religious celebrations began with the arrival of the Latin Patriarch, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

Monks and priests in white robes held a solemn procession into the church, as thousands of Palestinians and pilgrims from around the world looked on.

Preston Moore came from the midwestern U.S. state of Illinois.

"It is a great experience, wonderful. Feel jubilation, peace, a new hope for a new year," he said.

Bethlehem tourism is booming

Thanks to a lull in West Bank violence, it is a booming Christmas for tourism in Bethlehem with a million visitors this year. That is good news for Manger Square shopkeepers like Nadia Hazboun.

"A lot of tourists came to Bethlehem and we win a good business, better than the other last years, and we hope the situation will stay like this," she said.

Palestinians unhappy about Israeli security barrier

But Palestinians complain about Israel's massive security barrier surrounding Bethlehem. Jihan Anistas is the director of the Bethlehem Peace Center.

"The city of peace is encircled by the wall. It is a monster that is killing the city of Bethlehem. It is an open prison. I prefer to say it is a cage," said Anistas.

Israel says the barrier is necessary to keep suicide bombers out of the Jewish state. The wall is an eyesore on the biblical landscape, but Bethlehem put that aside this Christmas and opened its gates to celebrate.

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