» 12/27/2010, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
Record number of pilgrims visits Bethlehem as thousands throng Manger Square for Mass
Israeli authorities say some 100,000 visitors took part in Christmas festivities this year, twice as many as last year. This was the merriest Christmas in the past ten years, since 28 September 2000 that is when the second intifada broke out. The area’s economy is also picking up steam.
Bethlehem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A record number of pilgrims took part in Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem as tens of thousands of the faithful crowded the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square. Israeli military officials, who coordinate movement in and out of the West Bank, said over 100,000 pilgrims came to the town since Christmas Eve, compared to about 50,000 last year.
They also said this was the merriest Christmas seen in Bethlehem in years with the highest number of visitors for the holiday since 2000 when the second intifada began.
There were so many people that many pilgrims had to follow Christmas services from Manger Square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity.
This year’s record comes after a rebound began five years ago as the level of violence between Israeli and Palestinians decreased.
At present, only a third of Bethlehem’s 50,000 residents is Christian. In 1950, Christians represented 75 per cent of the population, but war and economic hardships have pushed many to leave.
However, the local economy has been picking up and the recovery of religious tourism is an indication of the turnaround.
The town's 2,750 hotel rooms were booked solid for Christmas week, and town officials say more hotels are under construction.
Nevertheless, signs of past violence are everywhere. Visitors entering the town must cross through a massive metal gate in the separation barrier Israel built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem following a wave of Palestinian attacks a few years ago.
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27/12/2008 PALESTINE - ISRAEL
Tens of thousands of pilgrims in Bethlehem for Christmas
The celebration unfolded peacefully, under the control of the Palestinian police. The number of tourists is up in the city. But tension remains high in the surrounding area.
Palestinian Authority shuts down the only Christian TV broadcaster in the Territories
After 14 years on the air, the government shuts down the only Palestinian Christian TV station. Located about 350 metres from Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the station broadcast shows with social, religious, economic and cultural content. Its general manager tells AsiaNews the order is unfair, stressing the high regard in which viewers held the station.
Gaza Christians banned from Bethlehem and celebrations even at Christmas
The desire of all Gaza Christians to celebrate Christmas in the place where Jesus was born. The Israeli government bans young people between 16 and 35 years from travelling to the West Bank for religious holidays. Hamas makes concessions for Christmas, but only for the secular aspect. The religious festival relegated to churches.
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