12/09/2005, 00.00
PALESTINE – HOLY LAND
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We get no money from the Palestinian Authority and Israel boycotts us, says Bethlehem mayor

Mayor speaks to AsiaNews about the town's problems a few days before Christmas: lack of government money and increasingly slow Israeli checkpoints. It's killing tourism.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh on Thursday accused the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) of failing to provide financial assistance to his town as it prepares to celebrate Christmas. He also explained how new Israeli checkpoints have created an oppressive atmosphere.

"Israel is engaging in economic warfare against Bethlehem," he told AsiaNews, "because they know we live off tourism and pilgrimages."

The mayor complains that Israeli soldiers are increasingly slow in checking the identities of those who are coming and going through the new checkpoints on the town's outskirts.

"This way they are blocking tourism," he laments.

Batarseh said he sent messages to Church leaders in Jerusalem and around the world asking them to intervene and "get the Israelis to let up and allow the faithful an easier access."

Many answered. "The Custody of the Holy Land said it was a beautiful message. I am certain that with their help the situation will soon improve," the mayor said.

In an urgent letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Batraseh called on the PNA to solve Bethlehem's financial crisis as soon as possible. He pointed out that the new municipality has not received any funds from the PNA since the last elections in May.

"There are many promises, but we haven't seen anything on the ground," Batarseh wrote. "Recently the Palestinian cabinet decided to allocate million for decorating Bethlehem for Christmas, but until now we haven't received the money."  

According to Batarseh, the municipality has been forced to take loans from different banks to prepare for the holiday season.

"Over the past two months we were also forced to take loans from banks to pay salaries for the municipality workers," the mayor told AsiaNews.

"Every month we need between 750,000 and 1,000,000 shekels (€ 150-180,000 or UIS$ 180-215,000) to pay the municipality's bills, but the money never comes."

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