Christmas celebrations begin in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Thousands of Christians will attend Midnight Mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.

Christian pilgrims from around the world will join local Palestinian and Arab-Israeli Christians for Thursday night’s service.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to attend.

Israel has also announced that an unlimited number of West Bank Palestinians will be allowed to enter Israel for holiday and family gatherings. More than 10,000 permits valid between Dec. 20 and Jan. 20 have already been issued, according to Israeli military officials. 

In addition, 300 Palestinian Christians in the Gaza Strip over the age of 35 will be allowed to enter the West Bank for 24 hours during the Christmas holiday. Another 300 Palestinian Christians will be permitted to travel to Ben Gurion International Airport. These permits will be issued subject to a security clearance.

During the holiday season, all the crossings into Bethlehem will be open 24 hours a day, according to an IDF official. Additional staff from the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria are scheduled to help ensure easy passage for visitors.

"Israeli security forces will continue to operate in order to ensure freedom of religion and normal way of life for Palestinians uninvolved in terrorism," the statement said. 

The beginning of Christmas celebrations in Israel began Thursday afternoon when the Roman Catholic Church’s Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal began his annual Christmas procession from Jerusalem to Manger Square in Bethlehem. Twal will lead the Midnight Mass.

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