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Bethlehem’s Residents Light Up Christmas Tree With Little Comfort or Joy

All across Bethlehem, inns are closed, the shepherds are likely to be under lockdown, and restaurant tables are unoccupied but the city's mayor says 'Christmas will not be cancelled'

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A Christmas tree was lit up on Saturday outside the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem's Manger Squares but due to coronavirus restriction, only a few people attended the traditional ceremony this year.

With a bright red star gleaming at its top, the giant tree was illuminated by hundreds of golden-white bulbs as fireworks lit up the night sky.

Just twelve months ago, Bethlehem town, which Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus, was celebrating its busiest festive season, but now it's shaping up for a dismal Christmas.

All across Bethlehem, inns are closed, the shepherds are likely to be under lockdown, and restaurant tables are unoccupied - no tourists in sight.

Nevertheless, town leaders say the traditional birthplace of Jesus will go ahead with its celebrations, aware that the world's eyes are upon it at this time of year.

"Bethlehem is going to celebrate Christmas. And Christmas will not be cancelled," said last week Mayor Anton Salman, as workers behind him erected a huge Christmas tree in Manger Square.

"This Christmas from Bethlehem there will be a message of hope to the whole world, that the world will recover from this pandemic."

The newly-appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, on Monday sought to rally the Holy Land faithful, saying that preparations had already started.

His fellow Franciscan friar Father Francesco Patton, the Custodian of the Holy Land, launched the seasonal celebrations on Saturday, presiding over a service in a near-deserted Church of the Nativity.

"This Christmas will be less festive than usual as there will be restrictions, I suppose like any other part of the world," Pizzaballa said in an interview with a Catholic news service.

"Maybe the civil law will forbid us to celebrate as we want; the pandemic will impose restrictions, but none will stop us from expressing the true meaning of Christmas which is to make an act of love."

Currently, the West Bank is under partial lockdown in a bid to minimise crowds for the festive season.

The total number of coronavirus infections reached 109,702 cases, including 905 deaths in the occupied territories, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

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