The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal made his way through the Bethlehem checkpoint at the Israeli built separation barrier on Thursday, on his way to lead Christmas festivities in the West Bank town.
The religious leader sent greetings to the Catholic world and called for peace in the region.Thousands of worshipers awaited the Patriarch in Bethlehem's Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, revered as the birthplace of Jesus. Upon his arrival, he was accompanied by a procession of clergymen into the ancient church, where he is expected to lead midnight and Christmas morning mass.Worshiper Lucy Abu Haileh was at the square for the occasion."The atmosphere is nice but the general situation that we are living here and in the Arab world makes the happiness not complete. We like to see peace and love (in the world) because our existence as Christians in Palestine is important to keep forgiveness and peace," she said."I'm here because of the nice atmosphere and to be here with my Christian brothers and sisters and spend their holiday with them and have fun with them," said Saja Meshal who came to celebrate Christmas at Manger Square.Since October, the region has seen a campaign of stabbings, shootings and car-rammings by Palestinians that has killed 20 Israelis and a US citizen. Israeli forces or armed civilians have killed at least 124 Palestinians, 76 of whom authorities described as assailants, while others died in clashes with security forces.The surge in violence has been partly fueled by Palestinian frustration over the collapse of US-sponsored peace talks in 2014, the growth of Jewish settlements on land they seek for a future state and Islamist calls for the destruction of Israel.Palestinians are also angry over stepped-up Jewish visits to Jerusalem's al-Aksa mosque compound, which is revered by Muslims as Islam's third holiest site and by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical-era temples.