Subscribe to Breaking News emails

You have successfully subscribed to the Breaking News email.

Subscribe today to be the first to to know about breaking news and special reports.

Jerusalem violence puts damper on Christmas in Bethlehem

 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press
Image: Worshippers pray inside the Church of the Nativity during Christmas celebrations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem
Worshippers pray inside the Church of the Nativity during Christmas celebrations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Dec. 24, 2017.Ammar Awad / Reuters

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

JERUSALEM — It was a subdued Christmas Eve in the alleged historic birthplace of Jesus Christ on Sunday, with spirits dampened by recent violence sparked by President Donald Trump's recognition of nearby Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Crowds were thinner than previous years, with visitors deterred by clashes that have broken out in recent weeks between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces. Although there was no violence Sunday, Palestinian officials scaled back the celebrations in protest. Cool weather, and a rainy forecast, also weighed on the holiday cheer.

Image: Worshippers pray inside the Church of the Nativity during Christmas celebrations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem
Worshippers pray inside the Church of the Nativity during Christmas celebrations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Dec. 24, 2017.Ammar Awad / Reuters

Claire Degout, a tourist from France, said she would not allow Trump's pronouncement, which has infuriated the Palestinians and drawn widespread international opposition, affect her decision to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.

"The decision of one man cannot affect all the Holy Land," she said. "Jerusalem belongs to everybody, you know, and it will be always like that, whatever Trump says."

Trump abandoned decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and saying he would move the American Embassy to the holy city.

Related: Why Trump’s provocative Jerusalem move hasn’t sparked an intifada

Trump said the move merely recognizes the fact that Jerusalem already serves as Israel's capital and that he was not prejudging negotiations on the city's final borders. But Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, saw the declaration as unfairly siding with Israel. Last week, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject Trump's decision.

The announcement triggered weeks of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including near-daily clashes in Bethlehem, which lies just south of Jerusalem.

Image: Pope Francis kisses a statue of baby Jesus as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
Pope Francis kisses a statue of baby Jesus as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Dec. 24, 2017.Alessandra Tarantino / AP

By midafternoon, hundreds of people had gathered in Manger Square near the city's main Christmas for celebrations, greeted by bagpipe-playing young Palestinian marching bands and scout troops. Accompanying the decorations was a large banner protesting Trump's Jerusalem declaration.

Bethlehem's mayor, Anton Salman, said celebrations were toned down because of anger over Trump's decision.

Related: Trump's Jerusalem move undermines U.S. interests, analysts say

"We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests," he said.

Next to the square was a poster that read "Manger Square appeal" and "#handsoffjerusalem."

"We want to show the people that we are people who deserve life, deserve our freedom, deserve our independence, deserve Jerusalem as our capital," he said.

Image: A worshipper prays inside the Church of the Nativity
A worshiper prays inside the Church of the Nativity, built atop the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was born, on Christmas Eve, in the West Bank City of Bethlehem on Dec. 24, 2017.Majdi Mohammed / AP

James Thorburn, a visitor from London, said he was determined to enjoy the holiday and show solidarity with Bethlehem's residents.

"I know that a lot of people did cancel," he said. "I felt I should come to support the Palestinians."

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
MORE FROM news