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PICTURES: Christmas In Bethlehem.



AP PhotoBETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- 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.

ABOVE:
Christian pilgrim worshippers visit the Grotto of the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The number of visitors remains below the levels of the late 1990s, when Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts were at their height. Following 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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Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, center (and below) , arrives to the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ on the Christmas Eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

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Christian pilgrim worshippers from Nigeria pray in the Grotto of the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photos/Majdi Mohammed)

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A Christian pilgrim touches a column inside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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A Palestinian works on a wooden sculpture at his souvenirs workshop near the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas this week. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

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An Orthodox priest walks inside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, ahead of Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas this week. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

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A worker cleans a glass case with a statue of baby Jesus displayed in the Church of the Nativity, ahead of Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas this week. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

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A Palestinian man works on a wooden sculpture of baby Jesus at his souvenirs workshop near the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas this week. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

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Christians look at lit candles in the Church of the Nativity, ahead of Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas this week. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
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An Orthodox Christian priest lights candles in the Church of the Nativity, ahead of Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas this week. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
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A Palestinian man works on a wooden sculpture Cross at his souvenirs workshop near the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas this week. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
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A Christian man lights candles in the Church of the Nativity, ahead of Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Christians around the world will celebrate Christmas this week. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
 

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A general view of Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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A Palestinian marching band marches during a parade marking Christmas in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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Christian nuns watch a Christmas celebration in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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A Palestinian youth dressed as Santa Claus holds balloons at Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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Palestinian children dressed up as Santa Claus pose for a photograph at Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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Christian worshippers visit the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)



 

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