30,000 People Flock to Bethlehem for Christmas Festivities

Some 30,000 people participated in Christmas festivities in Bethlehem. A select audience of some 1,000 people attended the midnight mass at the St. Catherine Church last Thursday while outside in Manger Square a giant television screen provided several thousand other pilgrims with a view of the church service. Israel TV broadcast the ceremony live to about 30 countries.

Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij rejected pressure by Arab extremists to cancel the traditional Christmas eve reception and limit the festivities to protest against Israeli measures on the West Bank. Local residents said security measures were unprecedented. Israeli troops patrolled the town’s back streets and watched crowds from rooftops overlooking the square. Persons entering the square were searched and police sealed off the entire area.

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