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Dark Christmas in Bethlehem against a backdrop of war | Middle East, the eternal conflict

Open in full screen mode< p class="StyledImageCaptionLegend-sc-57496c44-2 sbxsP">The figurine of a child draped in a keffiyeh is placed in the nativity scene of a church in Bethlehem as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.

Agence France-Presse

A veil of sadness envelopes the city of Bethlehem on Sunday, which prepares for a dark Christmas marked by the war in the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army intensified its operations on the 79th day of 27 ;a war that leaves civilians on the brink of famine, according to the UN.

The bombings continued without respite on Sunday, from the north to the south of this territory which has been under Israeli blockade for more than 16 years and where 85% of the population has been displaced by the fighting.

Smoke rose into the sky over Khan Yunis after strikes, while a strong explosion shook the center of the territory.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel, among others, after an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 that left around 1,140 dead, mostly civilians, according to the latest official Israeli figures.

Palestinian fighters also kidnapped around 250 people, 129 of whom remain detained in Gaza, according to Israel. Israeli retaliatory bombings in Gaza, where thousands of bombs were dropped, left 20,424 dead, mostly women, teenagers and children.

Middle East, the eternal conflict

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A few hours before Christmas Eve, the atmosphere was one of sobriety in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, a mecca of Christianity.

A veil of sadness envelops the city which usually adorns itself in its festive clothes. This year, no gigantic tree, no flamboyant nativity scene, little joy, noted an AFP journalist.

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“Gaza in the heart,” can be read on a banner waved by scouts not far from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Palestinian Christians – around 50,000, including a thousand in Gaza – do not have the heart for the celebrations, largely canceled by the municipality, since they cannot ignore the fate of their fellow citizens, besieged and bombed in Gaza.

Many of them die for this land. It's very difficult to celebrate something while our people are dying, Nicole Najjar, an 18-year-old student, told AFP on Mangeoire Square.

Upon his arrival in this square, the Latin patriarch Pizzaballa, large black and white keffiyeh around his neck, gave a short speech among a few dozen Christians in Bethlehem .

Our heart is with Gaza, with all the people of Gaza, with special attention to our suffering Christian community, but I know that we do not We're not the only ones suffering, he said.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza, a narrow coastal strip wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean, is dire: most hospitals there are out of service and , in the next six weeks, the entire population risks experiencing a high level of food insecurity which could lead to famine, according to the United Nations.

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The Latin Patriarch Pizzaballa upon his arrival at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a large black and white keffiyeh around his neck.

In Rafah, the border town with Egypt, Palestinians mourned their killed loved ones.

Oum Amir Abou al-Awf was injured in the hand and leg when a strike hit her house on Sunday morning in Tel al-Sultan, west of Rafah. Where is the victory they speak of? Nothing was done except killing civilians. They keep telling us that Rafah is safe, but no place is safe, this 27-year-old woman told AFP.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees are sheltering in makeshift camps and the population is rushing for insufficient food rations.

People's situation is very, very difficult. We are heading towards a very serious famine, Bakr al-Naji, a displaced person from Gaza City who volunteers with a charity, told AFP.

In Jabaliya, in the north, residents carrying jerrycans fetch water from a well. People come from far away, queue and find nothing. This water is not even good for cleaning, it contains germs, diseases, and I, at my age, have to drink it, testifies Abu Loai al-Biri, a gray-haired man.

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