- Title: VARIOUS: Latin Patriarch arrives in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve
- Date: 24th December 2005
- Summary: WIDE OF MANGER SQUARE WITH CROWDS GATHERED
- Embargoed: 8th January 2006 12:00
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA4J7M4ZZM25O4WC23P2OI4RMAH
- Story Text: Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah crossed the West Bank separation barrier on Saturday (December 24), en route to Bethlehem, on the first Christmas the biblical town, revered as Jesus birthplace, was walled from Jerusalem.
Hopes of a rush of pilgrims lifted the mood a little in Bethlehem as the town prepared for Christmas Eve when the Patriarch Sabbah would conduct the traditional midnight mass.
Christmas celebrations have been muted since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but a 10-month-old ceasefire has encouraged a big increase in the number of pilgrims and
tourists coming to Bethlehem.
Israeli authorities estimate the number of Christmas visitors to Bethlehem will double to 200,000 this year.
But pilgrims taking the road from adjacent Jerusalem -- the likely path taken by Mary and Joseph in the Christian narrative -- cannot miss the biggest change to Bethlehem this year:
the completion of an eight-metre (26-feet) concrete wall.
"This wall must not exist. One day it will not exist,"
Michel Sabbah, Pope Benedict's representative in the Holy Land, told reporters after he passed through the military crossing into Bethlehem.
"The Palestinian people should regain their liberty and land with a state and a capital and the Israeli people should have security," Sabbah, Latin Patriarch for the Holy Land, a
Israel erected its internationally condemned barrier inside the West Bank with the avowed aim of stopping Palestinian suicide bombers. Palestinians say that the barrier is a
land grab that denies them a viable state.
The World Court has branded the barrier illegal because it loops into occupied land.
Israel's army has eased restrictions on visitors to allow visits by foreign Christians as well as Palestinian Christians living alongside the Muslim majority.
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