Room and gloom at Bethlehem inn


THERE will be little gold, frankincense or myrrh in Bethlehem this year. And there may be plenty of gloom in the inn.

Because of a serious cash drought, Christmas will be celebrated in the traditional birthplace of Jesus without all the usual trimmings, the Palestinian mayor of the city, Mr Elias Freij, said yesterday.

"Bethlehem municipality is not broke, but we have no liquidity, and although we will celebrate and decorate Bethlehem, it will not be the same as the previous years because of lack of sufficient funding," Mr Freij said.

The mayor blamed the problem on Israel's closure of the West Bank, which he said caused hardship among Bethlehem's 40,000 residents and cut tax revenues to the city. He also blamed the lack of aid from the cash strapped Palestinian Authority.

He said that decorating Bethlehem for Christmas costs his municipality about £44,000, "but this year we have less than $40,000 [£25,000] and it will not be sufficient to decorate the city . . . as we did in previous years".

Thousands of Christian pilgrims flock to Bethlehem's Manger Square and Church of the Nativity at Christmas. Tinsel and fur coated Santas usually bedeck the city, although it rarely sees a white Christmas.

An employee at the Bethlehem municipality said Finland was donating a Christmas tree and its decorations this year. The tree has not yet been erected. But municipal workers have hung posters and some lights.

"Israel has frozen and destroyed Bethlehem's economy," the mayor said, referring to the closure imposed after suicide bombings by Islamic militants killed 59 people in the Jewish state last February and March.

Israel handed over the city to Palestinian rule only days before last Christmas.