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West Bank tensions dampen Christmas cheer in Bethlehem

FRANCE 24 screen grab

As the biblical birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem is a prime destination for Christian pilgrims - particularly over Christmas. But recent violence between Palestinians and Israelis has led to a decline in bookings and cast a pall over celebrations.

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The West Bank has been shaken by violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces this year. Bethlehem has seen its own share of unrest, and local officials fear this may have turned visitors away.

With Christmas around the corner, the city is all set to welcome visitors on what is normally its busiest time of the year. But alongside the customary Santa Claus figures, storefronts are announcing unusually early sales.

Johnny Masharbesh, whose shop is normally bustling with crowds in the buildup to Christmas, says he has no choice but to slash prices.

"This year we had to do promotions early on, because we are not selling enough. We’ve made a 50 percent discount on all sales to attract customers," he says.

In spite of the difficult times, local Christians are determined to maintain the centuries-old tradition and keep the Christmas spirit alive.

"We have fewer decorations and lights because of what’s going on," says Father Jamal Khader, a Latin patriarch. "But religious celebrations of Christmas will go on as usual – praying for the martyrs, for the prisoners and for everyone who’s suffering."

Click on the player above to watch the report by Ediz Tiyansan and Pierrick Leurent.

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