Image: Christmas tree in Bethlehem
Yannis Behrakis  /  Reuters
Residents and visitors stroll by the Christmas tree in the courtyard of the Nativity Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Monday night.
updated 12/16/2008 3:26:50 AM ET 2008-12-16T08:26:50

A 32-feet-high Christmas tree was lit late Monday in Manger Square in a ceremony that began the Christmas season in Jesus' traditional birthplace.

About 500 visitors counted down and cheered Monday as red and yellow lights on the cypress lit up.

The tree is the centerpiece of elaborate decorations put up around town in anticipation of a booming holiday season.

Mayor Victor Batarseh wished visitors a holiday of love, peace, harmony and forgiveness, but also criticized the Israeli occupation and the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank.

Batarseh said he hoped that "the star that led the three wise men to Bethlehem will lead the great powers and brighten their way toward genuine peace."

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