The IDF is set to issue permits to some 500 Palestinian Christians residing in Gaza allowing them to travel to the West Bank, specifically Bethlehem, for Christmas. Additionally, at least 20,000 entrance visas will likely be issued to Christian pilgrims who are expected to visit Bethlehem from abroad for the holiday.

The IDF traditionally decreases its activities in the Bethlehem area around the holiday in order to facilitate Christmas celebrations among the Christian community. Pilgrims usually make their way to Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, defense sources have dismissed a report saying PA security forces have disrupted their cooperation with the IDF recently, describing it as baseless.

Some 75,000 tourists are expected to visit the country this Christmas, a third of them Christian pilgrims, the Tourism Ministry said on Tuesday.

“About 60 percent of all visitors to Israel are Christian. The Christian community is a central anchor in marketing incoming tourism to Israel,” said Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov.

To accommodate the influx, for 24 hours the ministry will offer free transportation between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, with shuttle buses leaving every 15 to 20 minutes from Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square and back, from December 24 at noon to Christmas day at noon.

The ministry said it expects 2012 to break the incoming tourism record; around 3.3 million foreign visitors came by the end of November.

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