A Peaceful Xmas in Bethlehem

West Bank town sees its first calm Christmas in years; tourism rebounds
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 25, 2007 6:09 AM CST
A Palestinian security force officer stands guard as Christians gather outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in Manger Square during...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – This Christmas a huge number of tourists and pilgrims have made their way to Bethlehem, five miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank. The mayor of the town of Jesus' birth predicted at least 65,000 visitors this Christmas, quadruple the figure just two years ago, CTV reports. The slow peace process has revived tourism in the West Bank. "The atmosphere is better," said one shopkeeper. "There is relative calm, from the security standpoint."

While the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip continues to see violence, the Fatah-governed West Bank is at its calmest since the 2000 intifada. The site where Jesus was born is holy to both Christians and Muslims, and Mahmoud Abbas was in attendance at yesterday's Christmas mass. "We hope that this year will be the year of independence for the Palestinian people," he said.