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Near the church in Bethlehem's Manger Square, built over the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, tour guides pace back and forth, waiting in vain for tourist buses that fail to show. Hisham Khamis, a guide for 10 years, stands forlorn under a huge Christmas tree decorated in the black, white, red and green colors of the Palestinian flag.Bethlehem is preparing for the traditional midnight Christmas Mass at the Church of the Nativity, but the atmosphere this year is less than festive.The violence has killed 120 on the Palestinian side, several of them in and around Bethlehem, as well as 17 Israelis, an American and an Eritrean.Because peace seems so far away, Palestinian authorities, including those with the municipality of Bethlehem, have drastically scaled down Christmas festivities.
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