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Gaza Christians cancel Christmas celebrations to protest blockade
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21:29, December 24, 2008

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Palestinian Christians living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip will not celebrate Christmas this year and do the midnight Christmas mass, Gaza Latin Church pastor Manuel Musalam said on Wednesday.

Musalam said in a statement sent to reporters in Gaza that he made the decision to protest a tight Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, and Israeli threats to invade the coastal enclave.

The impoverished Gaza Strip is home to around 4,000 Christians, most of whom belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, while the rest follow the Latin Church Christmas calendar, which falls on Dec. 24.

Christian sources in Gaza said 800 Christians applied to the Israeli side to obtain a permission to reach the holy city of Bethlehem in the West Bank to attend the Christmas mass prayers midnight.

Palestinian Amid Saadeh decorates a Christmas tree at a church in the West Bank city of Nablus December 23, 2008.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

The Jewish state has only handed out 280 permissions to attend the Christmas Mass prayers in Bethlehem, the sources said, adding that the rest were denied.

"Annulling the Christmas mass prayers at midnight in Gaza came also to protest the Israeli decision not to give permission to Gaza Christians to go to Bethlehem," said Musalam.

He called on all Christians to gather at the Holy Family School, run by his church, to attend a silent mass, instead of praying at the church.

Israel recently tightened a crippling embargo it imposed on Gaza last year in an attempt to pressure Palestinian militants into giving up their rocket fire.

Israel has been closing Gaza border crossing points after a six-month truce brokered by Egypt between Israel and Gaza militant groups ended on Dec. 19.

Violence mounted on Wednesday as Hamas militants fired over than 60 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli cities and communities in Gaza vicinity in response to the death of three militants.

Three Hamas militants were killed on Tuesday night near northern Gaza-Israeli border, and two other Hamas militants were killed in a mysterious explosion in southern Gaza Strip.

Source: Xinhua

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