Tourism in Christ's birthplace down ahead of Christmas
Tourism in the Biblical city of Bethlehem is down this Christmas season compared to last year and hotels are more than half empty, Mayor Vera Baboun said.
"Bethlehem is empty this year," she told reporters in the city, blaming the most recent wave of violence in Israel and the Palestinian areas.
While last year all hotels and inns in the birthplace of Christ were fully booked at Christmas, this year only 40 per cent of hotel rooms in the southern West Bank town are occupied, she said. Some 78,783 tourists visited Bethlehem in December last year. She was unable to give a final number for December 2015, but it was expected to be significantly lower.
Since early October, some 128 Palestinians and 18 Israelis have been killed in the worst spell of street violence in Israel and the Palestinian areas in years. Most of the Palestinian dead are attackers, shot dead in over 90 knife attacks, as well as several vehicle and shooting attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians.
The outburst comes after a last attempt at peace talks collapsed in April 2014 amid rumours - vehemently denied by the Israeli government - of Israeli plans to change prayer arrangements at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque.