Faithful flock to Bethlehem for Christmas

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Christian pilgrims from around the world have gathered in Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations at the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

On Christmas Eve, thousands of people crowded into Manger Square. Many attended Christmas Eve Mass at the Church of the Nativity, where they were urged to "pray and work for peace" in the Holy Land. The Mass was attended by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The celebrations are bringing a lift to the Holy Land after a difficult year. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed last spring, and Israel battled Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip during a 50-day war over the summer.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led a procession from his Jerusalem headquarters into Bethlehem, passing through the Israeli separation barrier that surrounds much of the town. He said he hopes 2015 will be better than "this difficult year."