A grim start to the new year in Bethlehem

Christmas celebrations were muted amid escalating clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the historic city.

Anne Paq | | War & Conflict, Politics, Human Rights, Middle East, Palestine

Bethlehem, occupied West Bank - Each year, tens of thousands of Christians make their way to the historic city of Bethlehem for Christmas.

Believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the city's Christmas mass is broadcast around the world. Tourists, diplomats and journalists flock to the church annually to see the nativity scene.

But Bethlehem has not been immune to the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis that have escalated over the past few months. Clashes on the streets of Bethlehem often last for hours, well into the night, as Palestinians hurl rocks and Israelis respond with tear gas and bullets.

On Christmas Eve, celebrations took place around Manger Square, but with a much smaller crowd. Although the Christmas mass was packed, the traditional fireworks celebration was cancelled as a sign of respect for the Palestinians who have died since the latest round of violence flared up in October.

On Christmas Day, young Palestinians again gathered to confront the Israeli army. Instead of fireworks and music, the dominant sounds were of tear gas canisters and bullets being fired - a grim start to the new year.

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