- Title: WEST BANK: Bethlehem awakes for Christmas
- Date: 24th December 2005
- Summary: WIDE OF CHURCH OF THE NATIVITIY / STAR HOTEL
- Embargoed: 8th January 2006 12:00
- Topics: International Relations,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA7PBZVF5T56UYTL0P7RCZM8YNW
- Story Text: Palestinians awoke on Saturday (December 24) to
celebrate Christmas Eve in the biblical town of Bethlehem
in the occupied West Bank.
As the sun rose over the town of Jesus' birth,
Palestinians, tourists and security men began flocking into
Manger Square of the Nativity Church, where the main
midnight mass would be held on Saturday night.
Bethlehem is also marking its first Christmas since
being fully cut off from adjacent Jerusalem by an
internationally-condemned barrier Israel erected with the
avowed aim of preventing
Pilgrims travelling the ancient route from Jerusalem to
Bethlehem this Christmas will find themselves hitting a
dead end -- a towering concrete wall and metal gate under
the lock and key of the Israeli army.
Before emerging into Bethlehem, tourists need to cross a
brand new high-tech military crossing, then pass through a
gate under the eight metre (26 feet) high graffiti covered
concrete walls, which creates what the mayor of Bethlehem
calls "the world's largest prison".
Tourism in Bethlehem has improved slightly this year
since the tourism-dependent economy was plunged into a deep
recession five years ago when a Palestinian uprising began
and the town was turned into a virtual war zone.
But this year the mood is sour among residents
contemplating the implications of the dour concrete wall
cutting across their town.
Defending the barrier, Israel says it has stopped 90
percent of suicide bombings since work began three years
ago after more than 180 people were killed in such attacks
in Jerusalem alone.
Palestinians see the barrier of mostly barbed-wire
fence and concrete walls in some areas such as in Bethlehem
as a unilateral border drawn by Israel to prevent their
dream of an independent state in all the West Bank and Gaza
The World Court has branded it illegal under
international law because it cuts into occupied land.
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