Christians converge on Bethlehem

By late morning, Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, was packed with pilgrims, waiting for the arrival of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch is scheduled to leave Jerusalem in the early afternoon for the annual procession to Bethlehem, where he will be escorted into the city by local clerics and dignitaries.

In the evening, choirs will sing carols in Manger Square and at midnight the Patriarch, Fouad Tawal will conduct mass.

Although surrounded by a high wall which forms part of Israel's West Bank barrier, Bethlehem is packed this year, with no accommodation available in any of its hotels.

Palestinian tourism officials estimate that by year's end up to two million people will have visited the southern West Bank town.

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