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INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS -
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Bethlehem has become a "prison"

Posted in the database on Saturday, December 24th, 2005 @ 11:57:17 MST (711 views)
from BBC News  

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The patriarch called for the building of "bridges of peace and love"

Israel's most senior Roman Catholic leader said Bethlehem has become an "immense prison" since the erection of Israel's security barrier.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, called for all barriers between people to be dismantled.

The patriarch was speaking in Bethlehem, where he will celebrate the traditional Christmas Eve mass.

The concrete barrier has been built around Palestinian areas in the West Bank. Israel says it deters attacks.

'Bridges of peace'

The patriarch, who is the Pope's representative in Israel, called for the wall's dismantling, and said "bridges of peace and love" should be built instead.

He defended the rights of Palestinians to have their own homeland and live free of occupation.

Michel Sabbah said winning hearts was the key to peace

But he said those who held power had to realise that they could not rule through violence, but only by winning the hearts of both Palestinians and Israelis.

"Nobody needs checkpoints in the Holy Land," he said, according to Israel Radio.

"This is the Holy Land and it should be treated as a holy area. We wish that this road will stay open so all Christian pilgrims can enter every day of the year, every year."

A ceasefire in place between Israel and most Palestinian militants has brought in many more visitors than last year.

But the BBC's Dan Damon in Bethlehem says there is still tension, with Palestinians complaining about the lack of jobs and frequent arrest raids by Israeli troops.

Israel has built a new crossing point in a gap in the towering concrete barrier to process thousands of foreign visitors more quickly.

But our correspondent says to Palestinians it looks like an international border post redrawing the map of Israel.

He says despite the sombre political background, Bethlehem is filled with coloured lights and singing as pilgrims from many Christian denominations mix with Muslims to make the most of the festival.



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