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IDF and Bethlehem Mayor, Face off over Flying of the Palestinian Flag

December 24, 1993
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A heated standoff between the Israeli military and the mayor of the West Bank town of Bethlehem over whether the Palestinian flag can fly over the town’s Manger Square during Christmas celebrations threatened to further erode already waning support for the Palestinian self-rule accord.

On Tuesday, members of the Al Fatah wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization hoisted the flag atop the City Hall overlooking the square where Jesus was said to have been born, the site of annual Christmas celebrations and religious processions.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has long maintained that the Palestinian flag may not fly from any public buildings in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

By Thursday morning, the flag had been removed. Israeli authorities denied any involvement.

Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij, a Greek Orthodox Christian, has threatened to cancel the town’s annual Christmas festivities if Israel does not rescind the flag ban.

The largely secular PLO, injecting politics into a Christian religious celebration, has announced plans to turn the Christmas celebration into a nationalistic event.

Fatah leaders have said Bethlehem will be bedecked with Palestinian flags for the traditional Christmas Eve procession of the Latin patriarch from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat joined the fray Thursday when he called Freij and told him to stand his ground.

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