Bethlehem Subdued After Islamist Threats Against Pilgrims

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, head of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, was struck Friday, Christmas Day, in Bethlehem by rocks thrown by Palestinian rioters.  None of the passengers in the patriarch’s vehicle was injured in the incident, but his car sustained damage.

Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators erupted following his departure from the city, known as the birthplace of Jesus, the news site said. Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces said Friday that they arrested two suspected Islamist radicals for burning a Christmas tree in the northern West Bank.

A Palestinian security officer said Friday the suspects set fire Wednesday to the tree in Zababdeh, a village near Jenin populated mainly by Christians. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters. He said both suspects were under investigation for possible ties to extremist Islamist groups.

A report in the Hebrew-language daily Ma’ariv said that senior PA officials met in Bethlehem earlier this week in order to formulate a strategy against the threat posed by extremists to the Christian celebrations in the city. At least four people are being held in detention without trial in Bethlehem and four others, supporters of Islamic State, were arrested elsewhere in the West Bank. It was not clear where eight other people were being held.

In a statement released by his office before the visit, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas praised Palestinian Christians for their role in creating a “rich and diverse society.” “This year, we witnessed more churches around the world supporting the call for recognition of the State of Palestine, and an increasing number of Christian groups campaigning to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of our land,” Abbas said.

The Christian Palestinian population dwindled significantly over the past years. Christians today make only 2 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank.

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