Palestinians may limit Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem

Palestinian Christians celebrate 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. (File/AP)
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Updated 23 November 2020

Palestinians may limit Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem

  • Palestinian Health Ministry recommends strict limits on celebrations due to COVID-19
  • Bethlehem’s economy relies heavily on the Christmas season

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Health Ministry has recommended strict limits on Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Celebrations in the biblical town revered by Christians as Jesus’ birthplace are usually attended by thousands of people from around the world.
But this year, the ministry has recommended the upcoming Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Manger Square be limited to 50 people, with the lights of the tree and area restaurants closed at 9 p.m. throughout the Christmas season. In its recommendations Saturday, it said religious services on Christmas Eve should also have limited attendance.
Bethlehem’s economy, filled with hotels, gift shops and restaurants, relies heavily on the Christmas season. The cancelation or scaling back of the celebrations will deal another blow to an economy that already has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis this year.
Palestinian officials are expected to make a final decision on Christmas celebrations in the coming days. Israel’s international airport — the main entry point for foreign travelers — has been closed to tourists for months, limiting the potential numbers of pilgrims in any case.
The West Bank is in the midst of a spike in coronavirus cases, while Israel is only slowly emerging from a lockdown imposed in September to control a raging outbreak. The northern Israeli town of Nazareth, revered by Christians as the place of Jesus’ childhood, has been designated a “restricted” zone by authorities, limiting movement in and out of the area for at least the next few days.


Israeli missions on alert after Iranian threats of retaliation

Updated 40 min 45 sec ago

Israeli missions on alert after Iranian threats of retaliation

  • UN urges restraint as Tehran vows revenge for slain nuclear scientist

TEHRAN/JERUSALEM: Israel put its embassies around the world on high alert on Saturday after Iranian threats of retaliation following the killing of a nuclear scientist near Tehran, Israeli N12 news reported on Saturday.

Iran has blamed Israel for the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who died on Friday after gunmen ambushed him in his car.

Iran’s supreme leader demanded the “definitive punishment” of those behind the killing that has raised fears of reignited tensions across the Middle East.

After years of being in the shadows, the image of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh suddenly was to be seen everywhere in Iranian media, as his widow spoke on state television. “He wanted to get martyred and his wish came true,” she said.

In Tehran, a small group of hard-line protesters burned images of President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden, who has said his administration will consider reentering Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. And while burning an American and Israeli flag, the hard-liners criticized Iran’s foreign minister who helped negotiate the nuclear deal, showing the challenge ahead of Tehran if officials chose to come back the accord.

The UN called for keeping restraint and avoiding the escalation of tensions in the Middle East, the deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general said. “We urge restraint and the need to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions in the region,” Farhan Haq said.

Germany called on all parties “to avoid taking any action which could lead to a new escalation of the situation” which “we absolutely do not need at this moment.”

Hours after the attack, the Pentagon announced it had brought the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier back into the Middle East, an unusual move as the carrier already spent months in the region.

Analysts have compared Fakhrizadeh to being on par with Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led America’s Manhattan Project in World War II that created the atom bomb.

Fakhrizadeh headed Iran’s so-called AMAD program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that the “structured program” ended in 2003. Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.