The acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, led Christmas Eve Midnight Mass on Tuesday in the Church of Nativity, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus.
The mass in the West Bank town of Bethlehem attracted hundreds of tourists from around the world and was also attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh.
Pizzaballa arrived in Bethlehem earlier in the day through the towering Israeli concrete military barrier where he conveyed a message of peace.
Bethlehem's Christmas season offers measured cheer for Palestinians in the West Bank city, which is separated from nearby Jerusalem by the barrier.
Still, the celebrations capped the most successful year in history for Palestinian tourism, according to Tourism Minister Rula Maayah.
Maayah estimated that some 15,000 pilgrims were staying overnight in Bethlehem’s fully booked hotels this Christmas. Tourists were also staying in other West Bank towns, such as Ramallah and Jericho, in addition to Jerusalem.
In all, she said the number of foreign tourists visiting the West Bank this year is estimated to reach 3.5 million people, up from 3 million last year.
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