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Christians flock to Bethlehem

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Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas during a lull in violence.

Tourists gathered in Manger Square on Monday to pray at the Church of the Nativity, the crowds an unusual sight after several years of virtually no visitors due to Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Despite the calm and festive atmosphere, bomb squads swept the town for explosives earlier in the day, and a heavy deployment of armed Palestinian police officers patrolled the streets of the city. Meanwhile, shopkeepers and tour operators handed out sweets and flowers to the visitors, and Israeli soldiers posed for pictures with them, the Associated Press reported.

Bethlehem’s governor, Saleh Tamari, told the AP that all of the town’s 5,000 hotel rooms were booked.

About 50 percent of Bethlehem’s population of 40,000 is Christian, compared to 90 percent in the 1950s.

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