Israel has decided to deploy special teams of Tourism Ministry personnel at the main entrance to Bethlehem this Christmas season. An Israeli ministry spokesman said the teams will...
JERUSALEM Israel has decided to deploy special teams of Tourism Ministry personnel at the main entrance to Bethlehem this Christmas season.
An Israeli ministry spokesman said the teams will ensure the safe and smooth passage of the thousands of tourists expected to make the journey from Jerusalem to the city known as the birthplace of Christ.
On Dec. 24 and 25, as well as Jan. 6, 7, 18 and 19 (the dates of Catholic/Protestant, Orthodox and Armenian Christmas observances), Ministry of Tourism teams will work together between tourists, tour operators and security forces at the sometimes-volatile checkpoint. The decision followed a meeting between Israeli Minister of Tourism Gideon Ezra and his Palestinian counterpart, Matri Abu Aita, in late November to coordinate Christmas celebrations.
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“Checkpoint 300,” as it is known locally, is heavily fortified by the Israeli army, which controls the security of the West Bank, including Bethlehem. During violent clashes, Israeli troops routinely clamp a closure on the town of Jesus’ birth and surrounding areas.
Israel credits the security barrier it has built in much of the West Bank, most recently around Bethlehem, for the dramatic decrease in violence in recent months. Palestinians say the barrier severely restricts their freedom of movement, making it impossible for many to tend their fields and attend school and even religious services at nearby churches and mosques.
Raphael Ben-Hur, Israel’s senior deputy director general of tourism services, said that checkpoint personnel will be provided with a list of tour groups traveling to Bethlehem ahead of their arrival.
Ezra said contact is ongoing with the Palestinian Authority. Meetings with his Egyptian counterpart are also planned in order to promote regional tourism cooperation.