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French Version

'Easy access' to boost tourism in Holy Land

For the first Christmas season in five years, Israel and the Palestinians are cooperating to boost tourism to encourage Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Land during the holiday.

The Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministers announced in a meeting last month - their first since fighting broke out in 2000 - that they intended to guarantee easy access for visitors traveling between Jerusalem and nearby Bethlehem, simplifying security checks.

Christmas celebrations in the land Jesus walked once attracted tens of thousands of tourists. But in the last few years, violence has kept pilgrims away. Tourism has recently begun to rise again due to a marketing push and a renewed effort to maintain relative calm after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death on Nov. 11.

"We are telling everyone that they can come more freely to the Holy Land," Palestinian Tourism Minister Mitri Abu Aitah said in the meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Gideon Ezra.

Ezra said he expected the new procedures to help: "I think this meeting between us will lead to a lot of people to come visit the Holy Land."

Beirut,12 20 2004
The Daily Star
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