Palestinian Leaders Allowed Into Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM, West Bank, DEC. 24, 2004 ( Hundreds of pilgrims and a new Palestinian leadership came to Bethlehem for Christmas as the town of Jesus’ birth celebrated the festival with hopes for peace following Yasser Arafat’s passing.

Israel had barred Arafat, who died last month, from Midnight Mass in Bethlehem during Christmases past, accusing him of fomenting bloodshed — allegations he always denied.

Reuters said that Israel allowed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie into the West Bank town.

At Bethlehem’s Paradise Hotel, owner George Abu Aita said occupancy was 20% for Christmas. “It’s better than last year,” he said.