Bethlehem lights up Christmas tree as virus rules keep crowds away

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Christmas tree is lit outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (AP)
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Christmas tree is seen at Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 5, 2020. (Reuters)
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Christmas tree is seen at Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 5, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. (Reuters)
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Palestinian Christians attend the lighting of a Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 05 December 2020

Bethlehem lights up Christmas tree as virus rules keep crowds away

  • Locals and pilgrims traditionally gather each year for the lighting of the tree in Manger Square
  • But this year, only a small crowd of journalists was present due to coronavirus restrictions

BETHLEHEM: Bethlehem lit up its Christmas tree on Saturday evening but without the usual crowds, as novel coronavirus restrictions put a damper on the start of Christmas festivities in the holy city.
Palestinian authorities last week announced measures, including a night-time curfew, across the Israeli-occupied West Bank for 14 days to fight a “worrying spread” of the virus.
Locals and pilgrims traditionally gather each year for the lighting of the tree in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.
But this year, only a small crowd of journalists was present due to coronavirus restrictions, an AFP photographer said.
Carmen Ghattas, director of public relations at the Bethlehem municipality, told AFP that Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh had lit up the tree remotely from his office in Ramallah.
The West Bank, with a Palestinian population of more than 2.8 million, has officially recorded 71,703 coronavirus infections, including 678 deaths.
Israel has occupied the territory since 1967.


Palestinians welcome Biden decision to reverse Trump policies

Updated 28 January 2021

Palestinians welcome Biden decision to reverse Trump policies

  • Trump halted US economic aid to the Palestinian Authority, worth $200 million

ATLANTA: Palestinian leaders have welcomed the announcement that US President Joe Biden plans to resume diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and restore US aid for the Palestinian people.

Richard Mills, the acting US ambassador to the UN, told the Un Security Council that the Biden administration intends to fully restore diplomatic relations and reinstate economic and humanitarian aid that was blocked by the Trump administration.

Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said that President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh welcome the announcement, which emphasized US support for a two-state solution and the importance of a return to negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

He added that the Palestinian leadership is keen for negotiations to resume, based on mutually agreed UN resolutions and the principles of international law that demand an end to Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“We are ready to resume diplomatic negotiations with Israel, with the help of international parties, based on international laws and UN resolutions,” he said. “Any solution, however, that does not take into account Palestinian rights as enshrined by international laws and UN agreements will fail.”

Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that Palestinians realize the Biden administration has signaled a clear break from Trump’s policies, while also being aware of its continuing, unequivocal support for Israel.

“What the Palestinians really want is a clear path toward ending the Israeli occupation and the establishment of their state, not a policy of conflict management in the way it was done for eight years under the administration of former President Barack Obama,” he said.

Trump halted US economic aid to the Palestinian Authority, worth $200 million, and more than $350 million of humanitarian aid provided through the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), after Palestinian leaders rejected Trump administration policies they believed denied the Palestinian people their rights and violated previous international agreements.

Mills said the decision by the Biden administration was made to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis.

“We do not view these steps as a favor to the Palestinian leadership,” he said. “US assistance benefits millions of ordinary Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.”

He also stressed the Biden administration’s “steadfast support for Israel” but added that it will support efforts to reach a mutually agreed two-state solution in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state.

Democratic US Congresswoman Marie Newman, who represents Illinois’s 3rd congressional district in the House of Representatives, said that the decision to restore ties with the Palestinians is a step in the right direction on the path to peace and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis.

“I am extremely hopeful that with the new Biden administration’s intentions and efforts to re-establish UNRWA funding, oppose illegal land annexation, and resume peace talks with the Palestinian leadership, that we will have a clearer path to peace, justice and prosperity in the region for both the Palestinian and Israeli people.”

Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem during the 1967 war and has refused to abide by numerous UN resolutions calling on it to end the occupation. In 1994 the Israelis and Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords, which stipulated the end of the occupation and the eventual establishment of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Under the Trump administration, the US government in 2017 recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved its embassy there from Tel Aviv, in violation of international law that does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the holy city.

* Follow Ali Younes on twitter @ali_reports