BETHLEHEM, Dec 25 (TNS): Palestinian scouts played drums and bagpipes as Christmas celebrations began in here on Sunday, but many tourists stayed away with tensions still simmering following Washington s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel s capital.
The controversial December 6 announcement by President Donald Trump unleashed demonstrations and clashes, including in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city Bethlehem, where Christians will mark the birth of Jesus in a midnight mass.
On Bethlehem s Manger Square, dozens of Palestinians and tourists gathered excitedly in the cold near a huge nativity scene and Christmas tree to watch the annual scout parade.
They took pictures as scouts, some playing bagpipes, marched through the square towards the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where tradition says Mary gave birth to Jesus.
Celebrations were to culminate at the church later on Sunday with midnight mass.
The square is usually thronging with tourists on Christmas Eve, but clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army in the past weeks have kept people away this year.
Nahil Banura, a Christian woman from Beit Sahur, a town near Bethlehem, said Trump s decision had made the run-up to Christmas “miserable”.
“People are only going out to vent,” said the 67-year-old, whose granddaughter wore a Santa Claus hat and clutched a pink balloon.
Perhaps as few as 50,000 Palestinian Christians make up just around two percent of the predominantly Muslim population of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.