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Few gather in Bethlehem’s Manger Square on Christmas Eve amid COVID fears

Few people gathered in Manger Square in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, on Christmas Eve (December 24) due to COVID-19 restrictions and concerns about the Omicron variant.

Bethlehem was hoping to turn it into a Christmas shopping attraction with a wave of foreign tourists, but the Omicron variant dashed those hopes in November by closing down international travel.

In striking contrast to what would normally be a frenetic scene, a relatively small crowd of faithful gathered at Manger Square for a second year in a row.

Bethlehem hosted 3.5 million visitors during its last pre-pandemic winter, in 2019-2020.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa will lead this year’s reduced celebrations, but 86-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be absent from the annual Midnight Mass at the Nativity Church, a Palestinian official said.

(Production:Yosri Al-Jamal, Mohammed Abu Ganeyeh, Adel Abu Nehme, Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh, Roleen Tafakji)

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