- Title: WEST BANK: Eastern Orthodox Christians in Bethlehem dedicate Christmas to Gaza
- Date: 6th January 2009
- Summary: PATRIARCH ENTERING NATIVITY CHURCH (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ORTHODOX CLERIC ATALLAH HANNA, SAYING "In this day of Christmas we feel the pain of the martyrs, also we hope that God will help to treat the injures and wounded. Also we demand from God in this holy day to protect our Palestinian people, and stop this aggression."
- Embargoed: 21st January 2009 12:00
- Topics: War / Fighting,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA7C3IESTCIMOAMR2JQCEHZTVVD
- Story Text: Eastern Orthodox Christians in the West Bank held subdued Christmas celebrations on Tuesday (January 6), in protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, dozens of Eastern Orthodox Christians gathered in front of the Church of Nativity and demonstrated against the Gaza operation.
Some carried black flags and chanted anti-Israeli slogans.
"In this day of Christmas we feel the pain of the martyrs, also we hope that God will help to treat the injures and wounded. Also we demand from God in this holy day to protect our Palestinian people, and stop this aggression," said Orthodox cleric Atallah Hanna during Christmas celebration.
The Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos the Third, attended the Christmas observance, which was dedicated to supporting the residents of Gaza.
Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6, as opposed to Catholic Christians who celebrate it on December 25. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches separated following the Great Schism of 1054.
In the West bank town of Jenin, children demonstrated against Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip.
"We are here today for Gaza. We see them in the TV. God help them, and we tell them don't surrender because God with you," protester, Osama Sabah told Reuters Television.
The Israeli military said it has killed 130 Palestinian militants in Gaza since Saturday, a figure that suggested the total Palestinian death toll since December 27 might be close to 700. Bodies may still be on the battlefield.
Many of the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million people say there are shortages of food, water and electricity power in the coastal enclave. In southern Israel, schools remained closed and hundreds of thousands of people have been rushing to bomb shelter at the sound of alarms heralding incoming rockets.
Israel launched the current offensive after Hamas called off a six-month truce last month and stepped up cross-border rocket attacks in what it called a response to Israeli raids and a blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Heavy Israeli casualties in the Gaza fighting could erode strong public support for the operation and affect the outcome of Israel's Feb. 10 national election.
Israel pulled its troops and more than 8,000 settlers out of Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation in a move that many at the time hoped would lead to a breakthrough for relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
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