Thousands converge on Bethlehem

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A pilgrim lights a candle outside of the Grotto at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ(AP)

Thousands of tourists, pilgrims and clergy are converging on Bethlehem as the town of Jesus’ birth celebrates Christmas Eve.

Boy Scout marching bands were playing in Manger Square, just outside the Church of the Nativity, the site where Christians say Jesus was born in a stable. Pilgrims were lighting candles inside.

The Catholic Church’s top clergyman in the Holy Land is taking part in Bethlehem in a traditional procession. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal will later attend midnight mass at the church.

The number of tourists visiting Bethlehem has been steadily rising in recent years, and the town’s 2,750 hotel rooms are booked solid for Christmas week.

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