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<span class="t-location">Bethlehem (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – </span>Christmas tourism is back in Bethlehem after two years of COVID-19-related restrictions, including giant evergreen trees, colorful balloons in the streets and selfies at the Church of the Nativity. </p><div> <p>The city of Bethlehem, revered in Christian tradition as the birthplace of Christ, welcomes thousands of pilgrims and tourists each Christmas, but the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions have reduced the number of visitors in the last two years. Unexpectedly exhausted.
Now, with the restrictions lifted in Israel and the Palestinian Territory, where Bethlehem is the closest international airport, towns in the southern West Bank take on a festive atmosphere.
Scouts marched with bagpipes, and thousands of onlookers lined the streets with balloons and cotton candy.
</div>Pierbattista Pizzavala, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, greeted worshipers as they arrived in town before leading the annual Christmas Eve procession at the Church of the Nativity.
Bethlehem Mayor Hannah Hanania told AFP, “Christmas is a city celebration and we have put a lot of time and effort into preparing it.
“We want international participation and have organized children’s songs and shows with singers from France, South Africa and Malta,” he added.
Tourists flocked to the streets, shops, and stone buildings of this Palestinian town where Christians and Muslims coexist.
</div>"I'm so happy to be here," said Paul Wittenberger, a 40-year-old American from Michigan.
“We stayed here for three days and the weather was nice and we are lucky to be here out of the storm.
For John Hughes, it only meant “hanging out” in Bethlehem.
“It’s a very cool city,” the 22-year-old Canadian from Vancouver told AFP.
</div>For him, the birthplace of Christ was "an important place, especially at Christmas."
After two difficult years that saw local hotels empty, Michael Al Siriani, who owns a pottery and pottery workshop, sees tourists return to town. was happy.
“After the coronavirus pandemic, things are much better,” he said. “Besides, tourists have started sleeping in the city again.”
The Palestinian authorities that control the Israeli-occupied West Bank confirmed Syriani’s feelings.
“Since the beginning of the year, specifically since March, pilgrims and tourists from all over the world have started coming,” Palestinian Tourism Minister Lola Maaya told AFP.
</div>“So far, we have received about 700,000 tourists from all over the world.
On Saturday, meanwhile, hours before the traditional Midnight Mass and its prayers for peace, pilgrims immerse themselves in prayer at the Church of the Nativity, while others don red and white Santa Claus hats and take selfies. I took it.
© 2022 AFP
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