First Published: 2012-12-24

 

Bethlehem marks Christmas celebrations

 

Thousands of Palestinians, tourists flock to West Bank city of Bethlehem for Christmas festivities.

 

Middle East Online

By Sara Hussein - BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories

Thousands of tourists are expected to join Palestinian residents of Bethlehem

Thousands of Palestinians and tourists were flocking to the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Monday to mark Christmas at the site where many believe Jesus Christ was born.

This year's celebration carries special significance for many Palestinians, coming after 12 months in which their status on the world stage has been significantly upgraded.

Just last month the United Nations granted them the status of non-member observer state, and earlier this year they won their first UNESCO World Heritage Site designation -- for Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

The designation also included part of a pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, along which the traditional Christmas procession headed by the Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal will march later Monday.

Thousands of tourists are expected to join Palestinian residents of the city -- Muslim and Christian alike -- in lining the route to welcome the procession, which includes dozens of musicians and scout troupes from across the West Bank.

The parade will culminate in Manger Square, in front of the Church of the Nativity, which is built over the site where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cattle shed.

Several hours later, Twal, the most senior Roman Catholic bishop in the Middle East, will deliver the traditional midnight mass to the faithful.

Scout troupes were already marching in the square to the rhythm of drums and bagpipes mid-morning, while hundreds of tourists looked on.

The mass is traditionally attended by top officials from the Palestinian Authority including president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad.

Last week, in his pre-Christmas press conference, Twal praised the UN decision to upgrade Palestinian status, calling it a "step towards peace and stability in the region."

"Israel can now negotiate on equal state-to-state terms for the good of all," he told reporters, saying the Palestinian issue remained "the cause of all conflicts in the region," and urging US President Barack Obama to take "immediate action" to push the peace process forward.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Palestinians have seen Israel move forward with settlement activity, including around Bethlehem.

Last week alone, Israel moved forward with plans for over 5,000 new settler homes, most of them in annexed east Jerusalem, and more than 2,500 of them in the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood at the entrance to Bethlehem.

The Palestinians say part of the new settlement activity is intended to punish them for the UN upgrade bid, which was fiercely opposed by Israel and Washington.

But Xavier Abu Eid, an advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said this year's celebration of Christmas would be particularly meaningful for Palestinians nonetheless.

"At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the prince of hope and the prince of peace and the Palestinian people have been hoping for 64 years to achieve a just peace," he told AFP.

"After the UN vote we feel a step closer to this just peace we've been searching for," he added. "The UN vote is a turning point in our peaceful struggle for freedom and justice."

 

Ansar al-Sharia denies killing of Abu Iyadh in US air strike

Egypt President in Sinai after jihadist attacks on security forces

Hezbollah backs Syria army in major assault on border city

No guarantee of success as Iran nuclear talks inch closer to lasting deal

Lawlessness in Libya poses real danger for Tunisia

Coalitions of Syria rebels battle regime forces in Aleppo

Syria mosque explosion kills at least 25 Nusra fighters

Yemen Huthi rebels ‘attack’ various areas in Saudi Arabia

Egypt ‘in state of war’ on second anniversary of Islamist ouster

Rockets from Sinai strike Israel

Palestinians arrest 100 Hamas members in West Bank

Erdogan inaugurates public mosque in palace

Islamists form alliance in battle for Aleppo

Top Tunisian jihadist reportedly killed by US strike in Libya

Emir attends joint Shiite, Sunni prayers in Kuwait

Hamas denies involvement in Sinai attacks

4 Qaeda suspects killed in US drone attack in Yemen

'Series of errors' behind Air Algerie crash in Mali

Ankara has no plans for imminent intervention in Syria

21 killed in clashes, strikes in Yemen's Aden

GCC states vow united stand against IS mosque bombings

Palestinians protest one year after teenager burned alive

Egypt vows to wipe out 'dens of terror'

Tunisia arrests eight in connection with beach massacre

Youth in Tunisia 'ripe for radicalisation'

UN sends mission to 'assess' South Sudan atrocities

Syria urges citizens to enlist

AQAP step up campaign to eradicate qat

Iraq Christians train for jihad against IS

British FM: 'No breakthrough yet' in Iran nuclear talks

UN imposes first sanctions on six South Sudan generals

Libya rival governments will not return to peace talks

Fighting rages in Yemen’s Aden

Egypt government adopts anti-terror law

Kurds warn Turkey against any ‘aggression’ in Syria

Kuwait makes DNA tests mandatory after suicide bombing

Kuwait parliament approves deficit budget on oil slide

Pro-Erdogan candidate becomes new speaker of Turkey parliament

‘War’ in Sinai Peninsula as clashes with ISIS fighters rage on

All 38 victims of Tunisia beach massacre identified

36 killed in wave of IS attack on Egyptian soldiers

Iran vs. Israel gets cartoon treatment

IAEA chief to fly to Iran for nuclear talks

Saudi prince pledges fortune to charity

Syria Kurds regain full control of Tal Abyad