A traditional parade with the drums of Palestinian scouts and a Christmas procession led by Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem took place along the Star Street leading to the Basilica of the Nativity, a TASS correspondent reports from the scene.
"Despite the pandemic, life must go on, the holiday that has been celebrated from time immemorial cannot be left to the mercy of the disease. We came to Bethlehem with the whole family to feel the atmosphere of a real holiday here, and we did not lose", - Irina said in an interview with TASS. She lives, according to her, in the suburbs of Jerusalem. Entry to Bethlehem for foreigners is possible only through Israel, which, due to the spread of the omicron strain, has completely closed borders for foreign citizens since November 29. Tourism for those vaccinated with WHO-approved vaccines is expected to resume on January 9, so this year only pilgrims living in Palestine and Israel can enter Bethlehem.
"The second Christmas in a row we meet without tourists. It's a pity, it's very hard, but we are waiting. There are no tourists, but we are doing the best we can. I congratulate everyone on Christmas", - said the manager of one of the tourist shops in the center of Bethlehem. "Next year for Christmas, be sure to come to us in Palestine, I hope by that time the coronavirus will be a thing of the past", - he added.
The worst year in terms of the number of pilgrims to Bethlehem in the last decade, before the outbreak of the pandemic, was 2014. Then the borders were not closed, but the flow of tourists was sharply reduced due to the aggravation of the security situation in the West Bank, massive rocket attacks from Israel from the Gaza Strip and the Israeli military operation that lasted 50 days in July-August of that year. In 2017, the flow of tourists to Bethlehem declined again after the very celebration of Christmas was politicized by former US President Donald Trump. On December 6, 2017, the President issued a statement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to this city, which triggered a new round of violence in the region.