Some 30,000 people — 10,000 more than last year — arrived to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the largest turnout since Palestinian-Israeli fighting broke out in September 2000.
At Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, which was attended by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the National Palestinian Authority, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem echoed the message of peace that Christmas heralds.
“Peace to all, despite the national or religious differences,” exclaimed the Patriarch during the homily of the Mass, broadcast on Palestinian television.
Christmas “tells us again that each man is precious in the eyes of God his Creator and that the blood always shed with so much ease in these days in this land, the blood of the human person, on both sides, cries out for vengeance and that cry is heard by the Most High,” he said.
For the first time in six years, restaurants and hotels in Bethlehem were full, news which has given hope to the town’s 40,000 inhabitants — less than half of whom are Christians — who in the main live from the tourist industry.