Hoping Omicron doesn’t spoil Christmas, Bethlehem lights up the tree | World news

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – Residents lit a giant Christmas tree outside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on Saturday, hoping a new variant of the coronavirus wouldn’t spoil another holiday season at the place traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Israeli-occupied Palestinian city in the West Bank was virtually closed last Christmas, losing its peak tourist season due to the pandemic.

Last December, Israel banned foreign travelers for 14 days in an attempt to prevent the Omicron variant from taking hold, and the hope is that the ban ends as planned, in time for Christmas trips. During its last pre-pandemic winter, in 2019/20, Bethlehem welcomed 3.5 million visitors.

The giant tree, topped with a bright red star, was illuminated with hundreds of colored lights as red, white and green fireworks lit up the night sky.

Mayor Anton Salman said the travel ban prevented several foreign delegations from attending.

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Nonetheless, the audience in Manger Square in front of the church was much larger than last year, when coronavirus restrictions kept even local onlookers away.

“It’s very happy, a very beautiful evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation,” said Maria, a tourist from Finland who did not give her full name.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abu Ganeyeh and Yosri al-Jamal in Bethlehem and Roleen Tafakji in Jerusalem; written by Maayan Lubell; edited by Kevin Liffey)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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