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Crowds gather in Bethlehem for Christmas

By The Associated Press

This article was published December 24, 2013 at 7:42 a.m.

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Large crowds have begun to gather in the biblical town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations.

Hundreds of tourists packed the town's Manger Square to enjoy the cool, sunny weather ahead of celebrations on Tuesday evening. The nearby Church of the Nativity sits on the spot where tradition says Jesus was born.

The number of visitors remains below the levels of the late 1990s, when Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts were at their height. After the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising in 2000, the numbers plunged.

But thanks to a period of relative calm, they have been steadily climbing in recent years — and are expected to get an extra push this year thanks to the resumption of peace talks.

Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah says the Palestinians "deserve to have peace."

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