Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

A view of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity as people gather for Christmas Eve celebrations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (Hazem Bader / AFP/Getty Images / December 24, 2013)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank – Thousands of Palestinians as well as international pilgrims and tourists descended on Bethlehem on Tuesday to celebrate Christmas Eve.

People stood at Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity watching a parade of bagpipe- and drum-playing youths, followed by the Roman Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, and his entourage, walk into the church to begin the Christmas religious festivities.

Choirs on a stage in Manger Square sang songs celebrating the birth of Jesus. The area was brightly lighted and decorated with tall Christmas trees.

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Those attending a midnight Mass included Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. In his remarks, Twal expressed concern that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unresolved.

"In the Holy Land, we are living a conflict that does not seem to have a solution in the short term and which weighs heavily on the inhabitants," he said.

He prayed that Abbas will succeed "in finding a just and equitable solution to the present conflict," so that "this land, home of the three monotheistic religions, will one day become a haven of peace for all people."

Abukhater is a special correspondent.