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Christmas tree lights blaze in birthplace of Jesus

posted 15 Dec 2012, 10:29 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 15 Dec 2012, 10:29 ]

Giant Christmas tree in Jesus' birthplace becomes centre of celebration.

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (DECEMBER 15, 2012) (REUTERS) -  A 15-metre (50 feet) high Christmas tree outside the church of Nativity inBethlehem's Manger Square was lit up on Saturday (December 15), in a ceremony which officially kicked off the Christmas celebrations in the town believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

Hundreds of Palestinians and pilgrims gathered for the annual ceremony during which the mayor of Bethlehem lights the Christmas tree.

"Well our message is always a message of peace and love and understanding. We need to promote building bridges of peace and understanding between our country and the neighbouring countries and also we are inviting everybody to come and celebrate Christmas in our holy town of Bethlehem because it is very important that people come and interact with people of Bethlehem in order to know what they are," Organizer Of The Ceremony, Maher Canawati, told Reuters Television.

The crowd applauded and cheered as the tree was illuminated with colourful lights, and a fireworks display began.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad attended the ceremony.

Relative calm has returned to Bethlehem after years of heavy fighting during the Palestinian uprising for independence which was launched in 2000. In the past four years there has been a steady increase in tourism at the West Bank town which has been described by some as a tourism boom.

Israelis attribute some of that calm on the streets of nearby Jerusalem to the construction of hundreds of kilometres (miles) of walls and security fencing around theWest Bank. Palestinians complain that the barrier which snakes into their land makes continuity and life difficult, and takes away their freedom of movement.