12/15/2011, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE

Some 90,000 pilgrims are expected in the Holy Land over Christmas

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism announces measures to facilitate travel between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Instability in neighbouring Arab countries causes a small drop in the number of arrivals in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – A total of 90,000 tourists are expected to arrive in Israel over the Christmas holiday, this according to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, which has announced plans to provide free transportation for pilgrims travelling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Palestinian Christians are caught up in the festive mood of the season, said Samir Qumsieh, director and journalist at Al-Mahed Nativity TV, a Catholic broadcaster in Bethlehem.

“Thousands of tourists have filled the streets of Bethlehem,” he told AsiaNew, “but fewer than last year, because of the instability in neighbouring Arab states.”

Residents are doing their best to welcome pilgrims and the Church of the Nativity is a beehive of activities in preparation for Midnight Mass on 24 December, Qumsieh explained.

Card Fouad Twal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, will celebrate the Mass. High ranking Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, will attend.

A few days ago, Bethlehem Deputy Mayor George Saadeh and representatives of the Jerusalem Patriarchate met to plan the traditional Christmas Eve procession through the streets of the city.

Last Sunday, more than 3,500 Christians and some Muslims were present at the lightening ceremony of the Christmas Tree in Nazareth. The same ceremony will take place in Bethlehem on Saturday.

According to Israeli Tourism Ministry data, in the first half of this year, 1.6 million tourists visited Israel, 60 per cent Christian. (S.C.)
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