Today Israeli troops have gained total control over the Palestinian town of Bethlehem on the West Bank of the Jordan river.
The Israelis left central Bethlehem on Tuesday on the eve of Catholic Christmas. They withdrew from Manger Square and the Church of Nativity, one of the main Christian sacred places. The church was built on the site where, according to New Testament, Jesus Christ was born.
Many witnesses say that Christmas celebrations were not very gaudy this year. There was almost no illumination in Manger Square. The absence of Yassir Arafat, Head of the Palestinian National Authority, at the festivities has come to be a tradition of the celebrations. As it happened last year, the Israelis did not permit the Palestinian leader to visit Bethlehem.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mufaz urged "not to diminish combat alertness" on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip and to continue operations "to fully destroy terrorist infrastructures."