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Usa News

Christmas spirit lifted as Bethlehem recovers from pandemic

The biblical town of Bethlehem is gearing up for what locals are hoping will be a Merry Christmas, with thousands of visitors expected to descend on the traditional birthplace of Jesus as it rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourism is the economic engine of this occupied West Bank city, and for the past two years the pandemic has kept international visitors away. This year, visitors are back, hotels are full and local traders have reported booming business as the holidays approach.

“We are celebrating Christmas this year in a very different way than last year,” said Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah. “We celebrate Christmas with pilgrims from all over the world.”

Just before noon, the crowds were still sparse as police and businesses prepared for the celebrations.

Police erected barricades in Manger Square, while brass bands played drums and bagpipes. Foreign tourists were walking around and taking selfies with the city’s tall Christmas tree behind them.

Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the highest Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, was due to arrive from nearby Jerusalem to greet well-wishers.

Later, he was to celebrate midnight mass in the nearby Church of the Nativity, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.

Yet the current reality was visible in Manger Square as banners showing photos of Palestinian prisoner Nasser Abu Hamid were prominently displayed.

The veteran prisoner died of cancer last week in an Israeli prison clinic after spending some 20 years behind bars for his conviction in the deaths of seven Israelis.

nbcnews Gt

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