Thousands of people and dignitaries have attended the lighting of the giant Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Father Francesco Patton, a top official with the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, were present at Saturday’s ceremony in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
Mr Hamdallah said the Palestinians were resisting Israeli plans “to uproot us and strip us from our civilisation 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 on Saturday, Father Patton greeted clergy and led a service at the Nativity Church.
While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.
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We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.
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