Bethlehem open for Christmas celebrations

Sunday, December 24, 2006 |  by Staff Writer
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism, in conjunction with the Israel Defense Forces, has announced Sunday that they will make special arrangements to provide easy access for the thousands of Christian tourists and pilgrims who wish to visit the city of Bethlehem this Christmas holiday, celebrated today and tomorrow.

A statement released by the Ministry of Tourism says that free transportation will be provided for the thousands of tourists and pilgrims expected to travel to Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations. Shuttles will run continuously between Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for the duration of the holiday in order to expedite the 18,000 tourists expected to travel between the two cities.

“Free access to Bethlehem and holy places tops Israel's agenda,” says Tourism Minister Yitzhak Herzog. “Beyond our desire to ensure smooth passage for tourists, we are also cognizant of the importance of tourism to Bethlehem and the Palestinian economy and are cooperating with the Palestinian private sector,” says the minister.

The IDF, Civil Administration, and Israeli Police will also take steps during the holiday to facilitate the travel into Bethlehem, including increasing their manpower in several locations in the area in order to allow a quick, comfortable and efficient passage for the Christian population in and out of the city, and in order to facilitate the different religious ceremonies.

In addition to these measures, Israel will also allow free passage of Palestinian Christians from Gaza to Bethlehem for the celebrations and to the West Bank to visit their relatives. In addition, Christians from across the West Bank will be able to receive permits to visit their families in Israel and the Gaza Strip. As part of the preparations for the holidays, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav, held a meeting with the heads of the Christian communities in the West Bank, in which he wished them well over the holiday season on behalf of himself and the Minister of Defense.

“Israeli security forces will continue to make efforts to maintain the freedom of religion of the Palestinian population, while protecting the citizens of Israel,” an IDF statement read.

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