In Bethlehem, holiday cheer edges out gloom

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' bodyguards stand guard outside the Church of Nativity, background, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009. The top Roman Catholic cleric in the cradle of Christianity delivered Christmas wishes Thursday for the peace that has eluded the Middle East, and prayed for the day when Palestinians would no longer be confined by Israeli barriers.(AP Photo/ Oded Balilty)

December 24, 2009 1:20:00 PM PST
Thousands of pilgrims from around the world descended on the traditional birthplace of Jesus on Thursday, greeted by choruses, scout troops and rock bands for the most upbeat Christmas celebrations this Palestinian town has seen in years.

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