Thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the world together with local Christians gathered in the biblical town of Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas Eve in the traditional birthplace of Jesus, with spirits lifted by a slowdown in recent violence and cool, clear weather.
Security was tight in Bethlehem after recent deadly attacks on Christian targets in neighboring Egypt and Jordan by Islamic extremists.
Yet the faithful braved the chilly weather outside the town’s Manger Square as traditional Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells” played in Arabic over loudspeakers and scout groups paraded with bagpipes and sang carols. Elated tourists and local Christians alike wandered around the square illuminated by festive red and golden lights and a large Christmas tree, visiting souvenir shops and restaurants.
Adding to the holiday spirit for the Palestinians, locals celebrated a key diplomatic victory at the United Nations the day before, where the Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.