Thousands of faithful and dignitaries attended Saturday’s lighting of the giant Christmas tree in Bethlehem outside the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Father Francesco Patton, a top official with the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, were present at the ceremony.
Hamdallah said the Palestinians were resisting Israeli plans “to uproot us and strip us from our civilization and history.”
A fireworks display and festivities accompanied the annual ceremony at the Manger Square in the run up to Christmas Eve, which attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the world.
Earlier Saturday, Father Patton greeted clergy and led a service at the Nativity Church. Celebrations in Bethlehem culminate with midnight mass on Christmas eve in the Church of the Nativity.
Christians make up a small minority of the overwhelmingly Muslim Palestinian population in the West Bank, but relations between the two religious groups are typically cordial and tolerant.
In Gaza, dominated by the Islamist Hamas terror group, a tiny Christian community has been targeted from time to time by zealots.