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Nativity Church in Bethlehem to Get Facelift

In this photo taken Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, pilgrims and tourists visit the Church of the Nativity, believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

The Palestinian Authority plans to renovate the 1,500-year-old Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The most urgent repair is on the leaking wooden roof that has ruined many of the church's priceless mosaics and paintings. There also is a danger that the rotting beams could fall on tourists below.

The roof has not undergone major repairs in more than 500 years because of a feud among the three Christian denominations that control the church - the Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians. But in the spirit of goodwill for Christmas, they put their differences aside.

Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes said, “The Palestinian Authority has taken the lead. Our president has issued a decree to restore the roof and to prepare for the restoration of the church on behalf of the three churches and in coordination with the three churches, which obviously cannot do it on their own.”

The Church of the Nativity is the Palestinian Authority’s top tourist attraction, with some 2 million visitors a year. The renovations will cost $10 to $15 million and will be funded by the Palestinian government and international donors.

But in the Holy Land, religion is never far from politics. The renovations are part of a Palestinian effort for statehood recognition at the United Nations, a move opposed by the United States and Israel, who say a Palestinian state can only be achieved through negotiations.

Palestinian officials say the restoration of a site of global importance should demonstrate to the world that their government is a responsible steward of the holy places.