- Title: WEST BANK: Palestinian security deploy across Bethlehem ahead of Christmas
- Date: 24th December 2008
- Summary: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (DECEMBER 24, 2008) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF CHURCH OF NATIVITY AND MANGER SQUARE PALESTINIAN POLICEMEN IN SQUARE VARIOUS OF POLICEMEN SETTING UP SECURITY MEASURES IN SQUARE
- Embargoed: 8th January 2009 12:00
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVARCIMG40RKOC7YEL7N9AYFDTB
- Story Text: Hundreds of Palestinian security men deployed across the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Wednesday (December 24) to secure the streets ahead of Christmas celebrations.
Nearly 500 men, of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' special guard, and the National Security Force, arrived in Bethlehem late on Tuesday (December 23) from Ramallah and Jericho.
A Palestinian security source said the troops came to enforce security during Christmas celebrations and also during the visit of President Mahmoud Abbas to Bethlehem, where he will visit the Karitas Hospital, the Church of Nativity, and will meet the Qatari Foreign Minister.
The security deployment came amid hopes in the Palestinian city that the holiday will help cap a boom year for tourism with a profitable festive season. Bethlehem's mayor Victor Batarseh have forecasted 1.25 million visitors by the end of 2008 and noted a halving in local unemployment.
Tourism in the biblical birthplace of Jesus was devastated when a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began in 2000 -- months after a papal visit and millennium celebrations had seemed to lock in a rosy future for Bethlehem as a magnet for tourists and pilgrims in a region aglow with hopes for peace.
Eight years on, hopes for a final settlement with Israel have faded, but a decline in violence has tempted back tourists who no longer fear suicide bombers and gunbattles erupting in the streets.
Khouloud Daibes-Abu Dayyeh, the Palestinian Authority's tourism minister said that hotel occupancy rates were now typically above 70 percent, compared to 10 percent a few years ago.
Israelis attribute some of that calm on the streets of nearby Jerusalem to the construction of hundreds of kilometres (miles) of wall and fencing around the West Bank. However, people in Bethlehem blame the barrier for discouraging visitors, who must pass through Israeli military checkpoints to reach the city.
Yet many tourists get only a fleeting glimpse of Palestinian life. Many prefer to stay in Israeli-run Jerusalem, 10 km (6 miles) away. Burgeoning numbers of east European pilgrims are bused in on whirlwind day-trips from Egypt's winter sun resorts on the Red Sea, a five-hour desert drive to the south.
Bethlehem may seem a confusing place to many tourists -- a mainly Muslim city where the call to prayer from the mosque on Manger Square drowned out the Christmas carols playing for the tourists and where palm trees and warm sunshine contrasted with the snow-capped Santa Claus figures on sale at the market.
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