Israeli Christians Get OK to Spend Christmas in Bethlehem

Interim Palestinian President Wants to Attend Midnight Mass

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, DEC. 22, 2004 ( The Israeli government announced that it would not prevent Israeli Christians from visiting Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations.

The decision is an easing of the law that banned Israeli citizens from entering areas under full Palestinian control, the so-called Area A under the Oslo agreements.

The ban was imposed to guarantee the safety of Israeli citizens after several Israelis were killed or «horribly lynched» in such areas, reported AsiaNews.

Rawhi Fattuh, interim president of the Palestinian National Authority, announced to Church officials that he wants to attend Midnight Mass at St. Catherine’s Church, the Franciscan parish church adjoining the Basilica of the Nativity.

It was Yasser Arafat who, after the Oslo accords, began the tradition of attending Midnight Mass.

However, after the Israelis confined him to Ramallah, his seat would remain empty. This year, if sources are right, the seat will no longer be empty.

The Custody of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, confirmed today on Vatican Radio that Rahwi Fattuh will be present in the Basilica of the Nativity, as will be the president of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the principal candidate in the upcoming elections, Mahmud Abbas, and his colleague Ahmed Querea.

The priest said: «They are welcome, as the civil authorities are always welcomed, because we ought to accept that Midnight Mass is also a civil event.»

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