20,000 Expected for Christmas Mass in Bethlehem

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BETHLEHEM - Twenty thousand people are expected to fill the Church of the Nativity plaza in Bethlehem for midnight mass.

Israeli government officials met with priests, archbishops and friars of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Franciscan, Lutheran, Anglican, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian and Armenian churches to discuss preparations for the Christmas holiday.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi filed the necessary forms to allow 300 Palestinian Christians to leave the Gaza Strip during Christmas.

Checkpoints in and out of Bethlehem will be open to help holiday visitors and extra soldiers will be on duty to facilitate their visits.

"[The Israeli military] is responsible for security for the processions from Jerusalem until they reach Bethlehem, which is Area A," said Lt. Col. Eyad Sirhan, commander of the Civil Administration Bethlehem Coordination and Liaison Office, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post.

"From that point on, the Palestinian Authority will be responsible for security," he said.

An estimated 70,000 pilgrims are expected to visit Bethlehem during this Christmas season.

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Sources: Ynet news, The Jerusalem Post

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