The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has reopened to worshippers and tourists today as the Palestinian authorities eased the coronavirus restrictions in the occupied West Bank.
Amid lingering pandemic concerns, however, access to the site has been capped to 50 people at a time.
All must be free of fever and wear protective masks. Kissing or touching the stones, including those in the grotto which Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus, will be forbidden.
Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. It is controlled nominally by the Palestinian Authority.
“The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ gave hope to people more than 2,000 years ago, and opening the church today will, I think, give hope to the whole world that hopefully this pandemic will end, not only in Palestine but in the whole world,” Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ayah told Reuters.
The easing of restrictions was announced by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh yesterday. He said that mosques, churches and businesses would reopen from today given the slow pace of virus infections.
Prayers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque are expected to resume later this week after a pause of nearly two months, officials of the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) said last week.
As of today, the occupied Palestinian territories have recorded a total of 602 coronavirus cases, with five deaths and 475 people recovering.