Israeli military preparing for Christmas in Bethlehem

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli security personnel will be increased at crossings near Bethlehem to allow pilgrims and tourists comfortable access to the city, the Israel Defense Forces said.

IDF officials met on Wednesday with representatives from the Bethlehem Municipality, the Palestinians’ security forces, international organizations and religious representatives to coordinate preparations for the Christmas season. More than 300,000 visitors are expected to visit Bethlehem at Christmastime.

The IDF said in a statement that it also will facilitate the visit of an “unlimited” number of Christian Palestinians from the West Bank to Israel, and will authorize 200 special permits for Palestinians who reside abroad to visit the West Bank. Some 500 Palestinian Christians from Gaza, under aged 16 and over 35, will be allowed to visit Israel and the West Bank during the holiday season.

“Israel is making a significant effort to safeguard freedom of religion in the area, facilitate participation in religious ceremonies and ensure that Christians in the region enjoy the holiday  spirit,” said  Lt. Col. Eyal Zeevi, head of the Bethlehem District Coordination Office.

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