Christmas Opens in Bethlehem

Resumed peace talks give holiday tourism a bump to 65K tourists
By Caroline Zimmerman,  Newser User
Posted Dec 16, 2007 5:07 PM CST
Palestinian workers carry a wooden cut-out of Santa Claus to put up in front of their restaurant in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Wednesday, Dec....   (Associated Press)
camera-icon View 3 more images

(Newser) – The lighting of a four-story tree yesterday in Bethlehem kicked off a joyous season of increased tourism, reports the AP, amid a backdrop of resumed Mideast peace talks. Some 65,000 foreigners are expected to visit the West Bank town this season, the AP reports; only 16,000 visited the famous town two years ago. "The town greatly benefits from this," one resident said.

Israel and Palestine are helping tourists make it securely from Jerusalem to Bethlehem through a military checkpoint. Some 1,500 cops will also keep an eye on festivities this season. Tony Blair even visited last month in what he called a sign that Bethlehem was safe for tourists—a far cry from a few years ago, when Palestinian and Israeli forces exchanged gunfire in the historic town.