Bethlehem sees record pilgrim crowd for Christmas

By Dalia Nammari

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 25 2010 1:03 a.m. MST

A nun attends the Christmas midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem early Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010

Fadi Arouri, Pool, AP Photo/

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — A record number of pilgrims from around the world have gathered in Bethlehem on Christmas Day in the largest celebration this West Bank town has seen in a decade.

Pilgrims were assembling around the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where tradition holds Jesus was born, for prayers Saturday morning.

The Israeli military put the number of pilgrims this year at over 100,000, compared to about 50,000 last year.

Warm weather, a virtual halt in Israeli-Palestinian violence and an economic revival in the West Bank have added to the holiday cheer.

Only one-third of Bethlehem's 50,000 residents are Christian, down from about 75 percent in the 1950s. The rest are Muslims.

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