Bethlehem Isolated, Says U.N.

NEW YORK, DEC. 21, 2004 ( Christmas might bring little cause for cheer to Bethlehem.

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Two U.N. bodies have published a report stating that the town of Jesus’ birth has become isolated.

Once a bustling cultural and spiritual center hosting tourists and pilgrims, Bethlehem now has boarded-up shops and abandoned development projects, states the report, entitled «Costs of Conflict: The Changing Face of Bethlehem.»

The reported was released Monday by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the U.N. Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

«The age-old link between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is nearly severed as a result of Israeli policies including settlements, a host of physical barriers and roads restricted to Israelis,» says the text, in reference to the Israeli restrictions imposed after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising four years ago.

«Without a political settlement that can remove the host of physical obstacles, including the barrier, and the influence of Israeli settlements, the future for Bethlehem residents looks bleak,» the text continues.

It adds that restricting access to Jerusalem’s and Bethlehem’s holy sites risks aggravating religious divisions, as well as hurting tourism, a key element of the local economy.

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