Bethlehem, WEST BANK (AFP)
Palestinians were to gather in the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ on Wednesday night to show solidarity with the people of Gaza, as Israel's massive bombing campaign was set to enter its sixth day.
When Israel began bombing Gaza just two days after Christmas, the mayor of Bethlehem announced that all the city's Christmas lights would be turned off in protest.
"We have decided to shut off the decorative lights and the Christmas tree to protest against the massacres committed in Gaza," Victor Batarseh told AFP.
"Israel has sabotaged the holidays with these massacres," he said.
But people decided to use New Year's Eve to return some ceremonial lighting in solidarity with the beleaguered people of the impoverished coastal strip.
One of the organizers, Raed Hamouri, a 25-year-old Palestinian who works with the non-governmental organization Relief International, told AFP: "The Christmas lights are still off, but we are going to build the word 'Gaza' with candles in Manger Square.
"There will be one candle for each of the people killed or wounded in the bombings."
He couldn't say how big the word would be, but with at least 390 people already killed in the bombing and nearly 2,000 wounded, the three letters in Arabic should be "very large."
Bethlehem's Christmas tree stands in front of the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus Christ was born more than 2,000 years ago. It normally stays lit until the Orthodox Nativity celebrations in early January.
Manger Square, named after the animal feeding trough that the Bible says was Jesus's first crib, faces the church.
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