12/17/2004, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Israeli Christians to visit Bethlehem this Christmas

Interim Palestinian President wants to attend Midnight Mass in Bethlehem.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Signs of thaw in the Holy Land after the Israeli government announced that it would not prevent Israeli Christians from visiting Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations. The decision is a derogation of the law that banned Israeli citizens from entering areas under full Palestinian control—the so-called Areas 'A' under the Oslo agreements.

The ban was imposed to guarantee the safety of Israeli citizens after several Israelis were killed or 'horribly lynched' in such areas.

Good news are not coming from Israel only; informed sources say that interim Palestinian National Authority President Rawhi Fattuh told Church officials that he wants to attend Midnight Mass at St. Catherine's Church, the Franciscan parish church adjoining the Basilica of the Nativity.

In the past, no head of government from neighbouring countries had made such a request. They might visit, welcomed with courtesy by the religious, but they would never stop for the liturgy.

Yasser Arafat started the tradition of attending Midnight Mass. However, after the Israelis confined him to Ramallah, his seat would remain empty. Every year, local TV would show the seat reserved for the old President, empty.

This year, if sources are right, the seat will no longer be empty.

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