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Israel carried out a series of airstrikes and other attacks Tuesday in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the deadly shooting of an Israeli civilian who had been working along the border. The fighting, which left a 3-year-old Palestinian girl dead, was the heaviest in more than a year.
Christmas also serves as a reminder of the dwindling numbers of Christians who live in the Holy Land. Over the decades, tens of thousands of Christians have left, fleeing violence or in search of better opportunities overseas. Christians now make up a tiny percentage of the population.
Bethlehem is now only one-third Christian, with most residents Muslim. In an annual gesture, Israel permitted some 500 members of Gaza’s small Christian community to leave the Hamas-ruled territory and cross through Israel to attend the celebrations in Bethlehem.
But for one night at least, residents and visitors brushed aside their troubles to celebrate the holiday.
Nick Parker, a student from Georgia Tech University, said he was enjoying the food and making friends with local residents and fellow travelers.
"It’s special to be here where Jesus was born," he said. "It’s a special opportunity, once in a lifetime."
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