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No Star in Bethlehem

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26 December 2023, Daily Telegraph, by Adella Beaini

Bethlehem has cancelled its annual Christmas celebrations out of respect for the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip, as the death toll hits a grim milestone.

Bethlehem – or Beit Lechem, located in what is now the Israeli-occupied West Bank – is typically flooded with pilgrims and other celebrants in late December.

This year, however, the festivities were pared back to a nativity scene at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church of an infant Jesus wrapped in a keffiyeh and surrounded by rubble. Meanwhile, the Church of the Nativity – which dates back to the sixth century – included razor wire and tarp-wrapped figures in its nativity scene.

The church is practically empty as the usual 6000 daily visitors that descend on Bethlehem trickled down to fewer than 1000 in one month.

The mournful mood was the joint decision of multiple Palestinian Christian leaders, who came together last month to cancel public celebrations in light of the war in Gaza.

At least 20,424 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory since the start of the war with Israel. The toll included 166 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the bodies of five Israeli hostages killed in Hamas captivity were found in an underground tunnel network in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli military announced on Christmas Eve.

Israel released footage of a white-tiled bathroom and work room linked by dark concrete-lined passages.

Chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said post-mortems were pending.

“We will brief the families and then, depending on what they approve, the public,” he said.

Ziv Dado, 36, a soldier in the Israeli military and Eden Zakaria, 27, an attendee at the music festival in southern Israel that came under attack by Hamas, had been recovered earlier this month after being taken hostage on October 7.

Sgt Ron Sherman, Cpl Nik Beizer and Elia Toledano were identified as the other three bodies recovered on the brink of Christmas.

Hamas has previously said some hostages died as a result of Israel’s own attack on Gaza, however have also threatened to kill hostages.

In Rome, Pope Francis used his Christmas Eve midnight mass to tell 6500 people in the crowd that Jesus’ birth is being rejected by the Israel-Hamas war.

The pope, who has repeatedly called for a ceasefire, stressed that the birth of Jesus offered a stark contrast to the “power of the world” and the desire for “might, fame, and glory.”

He said that God is instead marked by “closeness, compassion and tenderness” and does not “burst on the scene with limitless power” but instead “descends to the narrow confines of our lives”.

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Article source: Daily Telegraph | Adella Beaini | 26.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000