BETHLEHEM, Dec 6 — Bethlehem lit up its Christmas tree yesterday evening but without the usual crowds, as novel coronavirus restrictions put a damper on the start of Christmas festivities in the holy city. 

Palestinian authorities last week announced measures, including a night-time curfew, across the Israeli-occupied West Bank for 14 days to fight a “worrying spread” of the virus. 

Locals and pilgrims traditionally gather each year for the lighting of the tree in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born. 

But this year, only a small crowd of journalists was present due to coronavirus restrictions, an AFP photographer said. 

Carmen Ghattas, director of public relations at the Bethlehem municipality, told AFP that Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh had lit up the tree remotely from his office in Ramallah. 

The West Bank, with a Palestinian population of more than 2.8 million, has officially recorded 71,703 coronavirus infections, including 678 deaths. 

Israel has occupied the territory since 1967. — AFP