Hotels booked, parties planned and lights glittering, Bethlehem is preparing for tens of thousands of pilgrims to overcome Israeli occupation and give the town the best Christmas in years. "We are hopeful this city will remain peaceful. I'm sure we'll have a wonderful Christmas," says mayor Victor Batarseh, determined to look on the bright side sitting next to a plastic fir tree near Manger Square.
The hotels may not be full and Israel's "wall" may have cut it off from Jerusalem, but after five years of misery, Bethlehem is looking forward to a slightly happier Christmas. The birthplace of Jesus Christ has been the scene of some of the most notorious episodes of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in September 2000.
Jobs, housing and municipal services are what most residents in the Dihlabeng local municipality want from their new municipal leaders one week before the March 1 local government elections. Topsie Masweu (60) of Bohlokong, who works as a domestic worker in Bethlehem, said on Wednesday that jobs were the most urgent need in the town.
Israeli troops arrested dozens of Palestinians during overnight raids in the West Bank, including a security official from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, security sources on both sides said on Tuesday.
A 64-year-old man was arrested for allegedly killing his 35-year-old daughter with a spear in the Bohlokong area near Bethlehem, Eastern Free State police said on Sunday. The woman was stabbed in the chest as she entered her shack on her father's premises on Saturday evening, said Captain Motarafi Ntepe.
Free State Stars' Dio Sibisi scored a brace to help his team beat Lamontville Golden Arrows 2-0 in front of a sizeable crowd in their first Premier Soccer League game played at home at the Gobel Park Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Stars led 1-0 at the break. Striker Sibisi received a back pass in the 35th minute and struck a lightning shot.
Christians around the world celebrated Christmas on Tuesday as the Catholic leader in the Holy Land pleaded for peace in the Middle East and Pope Benedict XVI spoke against selfishness. Iraqi Christians meanwhile celebrated a fearful Christmas in the shadow of suicide bombings and sectarian violence.
The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, a Palestinian, called on Monday on Middle East leaders to become "peacemakers" and condemned inter-Palestinian fighting, as the pope used his Christmas message to appeal for respect of the "dignity of children". In Asia, there were no immediate reports of violence that had been feared for the religious holiday.
Christians around the world celebrated Christmas with prayers for peace on Sunday amid fears of violence as pilgrims returned in droves to their saviour's birthplace. Thousands of pilgrims descended on Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus Christ enjoyed its busiest Christmas of the new century.
Gloom was banished from Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem for the first time in years on Monday as Christian pilgrims from all over the world flocked here to celebrate the birth of Jesus in an atmosphere of renewed tranquillity. In the Gaza Strip, however, the mood was much more somber than in Bethlehem.
A Palestinian child playing with a plastic rifle was shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers near the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Friday, medical and security sources said. Miras al-Azza (12) was shot in the belly when Israel soldiers opened fire on a group of children playing with a plastic rifle in the Aydah refugee camp.
Gunmen briefly occupied the offices of the mayor of Bethlehem on Tuesday in the countdown to Christmas, highlighting the rampant security chaos in the Palestinian territories. About 15 masked members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of the ruling Fatah movement, burst into the building.
Hovering above a pride of white lions in a hot air balloon was the defining moment of Briton Chris Sanger-Davies's first trip to South Africa. "You realise that you are flying over countryside that has the kind of wildlife in it, that if you landed there, you would be stuffed," the pilot said as he attended the South African Hot Air Balloon Championships.
A grade eight pupil is to appear in the Frankfort Magistrate's Court on Friday for allegedly stabbing a classmate, Free State police said. Following the incident on Tuesday at 8am, police arrested an 18-year-old pupil at the Reseng Thabo High School in Tweeling, said Captain Hennie Labuschagne. The victim was in the classroom together with his classmates.