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."

 

Yemen retakes biggest airbase from rebels

Britain extends air strikes in Iraq by a year

President of Iraq Kurdistan vows to avenge Yazidi minority

US agrees to ‘expedite’ arms sales to Gulf countries

Saudi king cuts short French Riviera holiday

Two Turkish soldiers killed in new PKK attack

US may take 'additional steps' to defend allied fighters in Syria

Israel ex-security chiefs to Netanyahu: Accept Iran deal as ‘fait accompli’

Turkey will do 'whatever necessary' in fight against militants

PKK claims deadly suicide bombing against troops in eastern Turkey

Sudan rebels offered guarantees to attend talks

Pro-Hadi forces target rebel-held base as coalition forces enter Aden

Israel's president threatened over 'Jewish Terrorism' comments

French beach returns to public after departure of Saudi King

Syria army plane crashes in rebel-held town of Ariha

Iran bans newspaper owned by nuclear deal critic

More Yemen refugees look for shelter in Djibouti

Erdogan: Putin may give up on Assad

Yemen rebel leader says political settlement still possible

Egypt leader amends electoral law

Kerry in Qatar for talks on Iran nuclear deal

UAE prosecutor refers 41 people to trial on terrorism charges

Kerry to Middle East allies: Iran deal will make region safer

Egypt court again postpones verdict in retrial of Jazeera reporters

Al-Nusra Front releases video to show ‘capture’ of US-trained rebels

Israel faces mounting pressure after baby killing in arson attack

'PKK suicide attack' kills two soldiers in eastern Turkey

Egypt court postpones verdict on brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri

Immigration surpasses economy as major concern in Europe

Plane crash kills family members of Bin Laden

Iraq protesters vent anger over poor services

ISIS flexes muscles in eastern Libya

Syria army pushes back rebels near Latakia province

Arbil urges PKK to move out of Iraq Kurdistan

Yemen government returns to Aden with eyes set on Sanaa

Erdogan calls for early elections if no coalition

Palestinian baby killed in arson attack by Jewish settlers

Kurds in Diyarbakir fear return to war

State of emergency in Tunisia extended

Jerusalem Gay Pride attack suspect lashes out in court

'Kurdish Obama' faces his biggest test

Yemen blockade 'killing' as many civilians as war

EU urges Israel to show 'zero tolerance for settler violence'

Cash-strapped Tunisia's Syphax airline grounds flights

Pentagon denies US-trained rebels captured in Syria