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Sparse Turnout on Gloomy Christmas Eve in Bethlehem


Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, center, arrives at the Church of the Nativity, built atop the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was born, on Christmas Eve, in the West Bank City of Bethlehem, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015.

Israeli forces have killed four Palestinian assailants in separate attacks in the West Bank. Ongoing unrest is overshadowing Christmas Eve celebrations in the Palestinian-ruled town of Bethlehem, where turnout is sparse.

Palestinian Boy and Girl Scouts kicked off Christmas celebrations with a march through Manger Square here in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. But the atmosphere is gloomy: Three months of Israeli-Palestinian violence have scared pilgrims and tourists away.

Louie Tawil is the manager of the Manger Square Hotel, near the ancient Church of the Nativity where tradition says Jesus was born.

“There have been a lot of cancellations because of the unstable, political situation. Compared to last year for the tourists, it is maybe less 50 percent,” Tawil said.

But the pilgrims who made the journey were glad they came. Almar Sanko is from the Philippines.

“Being a Christian, as a Roman Catholic, it is overwhelming when you are here," said Sanko. "And it strengthens your beliefs when you are really here in the place where Jesus Christ was born. And it is refreshing.”

Emily Walker came from Michigan, in the United States. She says considering the mass shootings in America, Bethlehem seems relatively safe.

“I am definitely not afraid to be in this part of the world right now," she said. "You know a lot of my family and friends in the United States might be kind of worried for me. But when I hear of violent attacks going on in the United States all the time, it makes me think that violence can happen anywhere and I do not feel particularly in danger here.”

Palestinian merchants sat in their shops packed with olivewood souvenirs, but customers were few and far between.

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