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Christmas’ Central City Ceremonies Canceled as COVID Cases Climb

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, will be closed for Christmas, as coronavirus fears have led local authorities to announce strict new limitations on public gatherings and outside visitors. While Mayor Anton Salman had promised his city would hold its traditional ceremonies this weekend, he was forced to admit over the weekend that the festivities would consist of only local residents, with participants numbering “less than dozens, as the number will be very limited.” Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity usually draws thousands of pilgrims from around the world this time of year. For the past few months, however, the town’s tourism sector has been shredded, with businesses, hotels and stores shuttered. The entire West Bank will soon be locked down again, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced on Thursday, as the number of new cases and deaths soar in the Palestinian territory. Daily cases in recent days have topped 1,100, bringing the total number of infections in the West Bank to 86,594. Over 860 Palestinians have died since the pandemic began.