Bittersweet Christmas for West Banks Bethlehem residents

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The move changed little on the ground, with Israel opposing the U.N. recognition bid and saying it bypassed peace negotiations aimed at establishing a state.

Meanwhile, three days before Christmas, Christian and Muslim representatives from Jerusalem sung Christmas carols and distributed chocolate, as they passed through the streets on Saturday dressed in Santa Claus costumes.

“This evening is all about celebrating Christmas. It’s all about the residents of Jerusalem coming together,” said resident Mustafa Alami.

The Israeli Tourism Ministry said it expects 75,000 tourists to arrive for Christmas this year, citing last month's clash between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza as a reason for the drop.

It said there was a 12 percent decrease overall in incoming tourism to Israel last month.

Foreign tourists heading to Bethlehem must pass through Israel or the Israel-controlled border crossing from Jordan.

Overall, there are only about 50,000 Christians in the West Bank, less than 3 percent of the population, the result of a lower birthrate and increased emigration.

Bethlehem’s Christians make up only a third of the town’s residents, down from 75 percent a few decades ago.

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