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Hundreds attend Christmas Eve mass in Bethlehem

Christian worshippers and tourists celebrate at the Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 24, 2012. Thousands of Christian worshippers and tourists arrived in Bethlehem on Monday to mark Christmas at the site where many believe Jesus Christ was born.

Hundreds of worshippers participated in a Christmas Eve mass on Monday in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, led the mass in the Church of the Nativity, believed by millions of Christians to be located at the exact spot of the birth of Jesus.

The mass in Bethlehem attracted hundreds of tourists from around the world and was also attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

“To all our dear English speaking pilgrims, we welcome you in the Holy Land and wish you and your families a holy and happy Christmas. We extend the same hearty wishes to our viewers who are following our joyful celebration from Bethlehem. We assure you, especially those who feel abandoned, of our closeness in prayer, with our wishes and prayers for a happy new year full of health, blessing and prosperity,” Twal said as he led the mass.

The Palestinian tourism ministry said tourism numbers had increased 20 percent in the last year, with 15,000 foreign pilgrims expected in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and 10,000 on Christmas Day.

Midnight mass was also held in the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth, where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived according to Christian tradition. Worshippers gathered inside the church, where according to Christian belief Mary was told by Angel Gabriel that she will give birth to the son of God.