Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Israeli-Palestinian Violence Clouds Christmas in Bethlehem

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Israeli-Palestinian Violence Clouds Christmas in Bethlehem

Article excerpt

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - Christian faithfuls from around the world on Thursday descended on the biblical city of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations at the traditional birthplace of Jesus, trying to lift spirits on a holiday dampened by months of Israeli- Palestinian violence. The fighting cast a pall over the celebrations. Crowds were thin and hotel rooms were empty. While the annual festivities in Bethlehem's Manger Square went on, other celebrations in the city were canceled or toned down.

"There's lights, there's carols, but there's an underlying sense of tension, said Paul Haines of Cornwall, England, who arrived in Bethlehem following a four-month trek from Rome.

Bethlehem has been a focal point for clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters during a three-month wave of violence that has gripped the region.

The city was quiet on Thursday, although violence raged elsewhere in the West Bank. Israeli authorities said three Palestinian assailants were killed as they carried out or tried to carry out stabbing or car-ramming attacks against Israeli security personnel, and a fourth Palestinian was killed in clashes with Israeli troops, a Palestinian hospital official said. Two Israeli security guards and a soldier were wounded.

Lisette Rossman, a 22-year-old student from Albuquerque, New Mexico, said the violence made her think twice about visiting a friend studying in Jerusalem. She said she was glad she made the trip because "it was one of my dreams to come here.

Since mid-September, Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings and shootings, have killed 20 Israelis, while Israeli fire has killed 124 Palestinians, among them 85 said by Israel to be attackers. The rest were killed in clashes with Israeli forces. Israel accuses Palestinian leaders of inciting the violence. The Palestinians say it is the result of nearly 50 years of military occupation.

In Manger Square, local activists placed an olive tree they said was uprooted by the Israeli army in a nearby village, and surrounded it with barbed wire and decorated it with spent tear gas canisters fired by Israeli troops and photographs of Palestinians killed or arrested in recent violence.

"We're in Bethlehem celebrating Christmas, celebrating the birthday of our lord Jesus Christ. …

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