Israel hands out sweets, smooths travel to Bethlehem for tourists

Israeli tourism workers are handing out candies and welcome cards to foreign visitors this Christmas as their numbers swell to levels seen before fighting with the Palestinians broke out seven years ago, officials said Tuesday. Israel expects 2.3 million tourists to visit the country this year, the closest the Jewish state has gotten to the peak year of 2000, when 2.7 million came, said Tourism Ministry Director General Shaul Tzemach. Foreigners are less afraid to visit the Holy Land now that Israel and the Palestinians have renewed the peace process, tourism officials said. "Now we can say there is a peace atmosphere for Christmas," said Raphael Ben-Hur, the ministry's deputy director-general.