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Christians in Bethlehem mark Christmas amid violence

CRI’s Luo Bin has more.

Pope Francis has led the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas, as Christians in some parts of the world face a more subdued festive season amid violence across the Middle East.

The 89-year-old monarch’s message will also pay tribute to those who fought during World War II, after commemorations this year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. And every year, thousands and thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to celebrate there.

If completed, the separation wall would cut off Christian landowners from olive groves their families have cultivated for centuries, probably to be incorporated into the nearby Jewish-only settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo.

Twal was welcomed by the Latin parish priests and representatives of Bethlehem at the Tomb of Rachel, also known as Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque, before making his way to Bethlehem’s main square, where he was greeted by Bethlehem Governor Jebrin al-Bakri, Mayor Vera Baboun and Director of Police ‘Alaa Shibli.

“It’s not a plot to deny Christians from celebrating”, said Bernard Sabella, a Palestinian Christian legislator and associate professor of sociology at Al Quds Open University.

The city was quiet Thursday, although violence raged elsewhere in the West Bank. “Liberate peace, unwall peace, in order to live peace”.

Tourism is vital to Bethlehem’s economy, but the downturn this year due to the increased tensions is expected to hit hotel operators, taxi drivers and tour guides hard.

The largest event in the city’s Manger Square attracted several thousand people Thursday evening, a smaller crowd than usual.

“I don’t have a lot of sales”.

It’s a typical scene in Bethlehem’s town square these days, where foreign tourists are conspicuously absent and the vast majority of visitors here are Palestinian families and youngsters.

Christmas Day in Bethlehem was marked by Palestinian rocks and iron bars hurled at the auto of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal as he drove out of Bethlehem after celebrating Christmas Mass. The prelate was not hurt, but the rear of his vehicle was smashed.

The city has been a focal point for clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters during the three month-long wave of violence and while the annual festivities in the city’s Manger Square were set to go on, other celebrations in the city were cancelled or toned down because of the violence.

On December 8, 19-year-old Malek Shalin was shot dead by Israeli forces when they raided the Dheisheh refugee camp, close to Bethlehem. It’s also a place that’s seen some of the violence that we’ve been seeing over the last three months in the holy land. There were a lot of Palestinians – local Palestinians though, who came from all over the West Bank, even many Muslims.

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