This year, a new record is expected as Pessah, which began on Wednesday evening, overlaps with Easter, which is celebrated today.
By MEL BEZALEL
Despite the widespread tourism decline across the world due to the financial crisis, hotel occupancy in Israel was expected to reach 75 per cent over the Pessah period - mostly thanks to Christian pilgrims here for Easter.
In 2008, Christian tourists comprised two-thirds of the three million visitors to Israel, and this year, a new record is expected as Pessah, which began on Wednesday evening, overlaps with Easter, which is celebrated today.
Among the Christian tourists visiting in the last few weeks was a group of 630 Catholic pilgrims from the United States, Canada, Britain and Ireland who arrived on a cruise ship bound for holy sites in the Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
The tour was organized by the world's only pilgrimage cruise operator to the Holy Land.
Traditional Easter celebrations are to be held in Jerusalem's Old City today.
The annual procession begins at the Lion's Gate on the east side and runs along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Also held in the spirit of Easter is the annual John Paul II Pilgrimage Peace Marathon, due to take place this year on April 23.
The 10 km route begins at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and continues via Rachel's Tomb to Jerusalem's Old City.
Participants in the 2007 and 2008 events included Israeli and Palestinian athletes as well as senior members of the Catholic clergy from the Vatican, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
After Easter, Pope Benedict XVI is to make his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories from May 11-15, where he will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as Jewish and Muslim religious officials.
His itinerary, which can be accessed through a new Web site (www.holyland-pilgrimage.org), includes visits to Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Nazareth - where he will hold mass.
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