Bethlehem prepares itself for another gloomy Christmas. The town, usually buzzing with pre-Christmas activity, is now dead. An Associated Press story gives the picture: "George Juha sat in his empty Manger Square restaurant, flipping through a picture album, reminiscing about the good old days when hundreds of tourists, diplomats, and famous personalities lunched there. 'We've been closed most of the year. There are no tourists, so business is very slow,'' said Juha, 44, looking at 5-year-old pictures of U.S. congressmen enjoying a traditional Middle Eastern meal at his restaurant.

Bethlehem's mayor announced this week that Christmas celebrations would be limited to religious ceremonies. "I know that Bethlehem has a special place in the Christians' hearts, being the cradle of Jesus Christ, and for that I encourage all our Christian brethren to show their love for Bethlehem this Christmas by taking serious steps to save the city and its people, as it's in dire need for help preserve its prestigious place and its importance as a pilgrimage destination and a city of peace," the mayor said.

In addition, Israel barred Yasser Arafat from attending any celebrations in the city after a Christian delegation invited him. Arafat typically attends the Christmas ceremonies, but hasn't for three years while he has been confined to his Ramallah compound.

Christians have been fleeing the city at a rate of 1,000 per year, Reuters reports. "If this continues, our churches will be more like museums than living houses of prayer," said Father Amjad Sabbara, a senior Roman Catholic cleric, after celebrating mass before a sparse congregation of mostly gray-haired worshipers." Christians number only 50,000 in the West Bank and Gaza, less than half ...

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