- Title: WEST BANK: Tourists flock to Bethlehem for Christmas mass
- Date: 25th December 2010
- Summary: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (DECEMBER 24, 2010) (REUTERS) SCOUTS MARCHING BAND PLAYING IN MANGER SQUARE ON THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS MEMBER OF BAND PLAYING BAG-PIPES MORE OF MARCHING BAND PLAYING BAND MEMBER PLAYING DRUM MORE OF MARCHING BAND
- Embargoed: 9th January 2011 12:00
- Location: West bank, West bank
- Country: Palestinian Territories
- Topics: Quirky,Religion,Travel / Tourism
- Reuters ID: LVABIMBJ1RWUX7RY9H6YRLPGYNOG
- Story Text: Tourists and pilgrims began to arrive at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem early on Friday (December 24), as festivities in the West Bank town - revered as the birth place of Jesus - started.
Marching bands filled the streets close to the Church, entertaining pilgrims and locals.
Celebrations were marred only by the existence of the Israeli constructed separation barrier surrounding the town, said Palestinian tourism minister Kholoud Daibes.
"It is a happy and proud day that we as Palestinian people have Bethlehem and Jesus' birthplace. It is (also) a sad moment because we usually hope to celebrate christmas without walls and (to) live in liberty. But it is also a message of hope that is carried by Palestinian people, tourists and pilgrims who arrive to Bethlehem today," Kholoud said.
Israel began building its barrier of fences and walls at the height of the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000 and it now runs along most of the West Bank border, at many points encroaching into West Bank territory.
Israel says it was built to prevent suicide bombers entering Israel and has largely succeeded in doing so. Palestinians see it as an attempt to seize land on which they aim to establish an independent state.
In a non-binding decision in 2004, the International Court of Justice said the barrier was illegal and should be taken out because it crossed occupied territory.
The general decline in violence in the area has tempted back visitors into the town, and the Palestinian Tourism Ministry now estimates tens of thousands of pilgrims will visit the holy sites during the holiday.
"I think it is great to be here for Christmas. It is first time I came in Bethlehem, and there is a lot of people. Everybody seem to be so happy I want to be a part of this celebration," Rebecca, a tourist from France, said in front of the church.
Later on Friday, Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal is expected in Bethlehem, where he will lead the midnight mass.
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