Friday, December 25, 1998 Published at 10:37 GMT
World: Middle East
Peace fears at Bethlehem Mass
Muslims and Christians joined in the celebrations in Manger Square
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has attended Christmas Mass in Bethlehem, but deadlock in the Middle East peace process clouded celebrations.
Mr Arafat was guest of honour. He was joined by his wife Suha in the West Bank town, which according to Christian tradition is the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
But Suha Arafat said deadlock in the Middle East peace process meant this Christmas was a sad one for both Christians and Muslims.
And she described President Clinton's recent visit to the Middle East as a mere "photo opportunity".
"Right, Clinton was here but it was just a photo opportunity and nothing more."
The mass in the fourth century church was a solemn religious event, conducted in Latin and seen on television by hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.
But in the three years since the Palestinians gained control of Bethlehem, it has also become a Palestinian state occasion.
Message of peace
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, preached a politically-tinged sermon, saying that Bethlehem could not enjoy the Christmas message of peace.
"That is not the motto of those who believe they are strong, who oppress the people," the patriarch said in a clear reference to Israel.
Television screens relayed the mass to a large crowd who spent the evening in Manger Square, entertained by church choirs and a display of fireworks.
Children wore Santa Claus hats and shops sported tinsel decorations - but the atmosphere was less commercial than that which Westerners have come to expect from Christmas.
Most of the people in the square were local Palestinians. There were fewer Christian pilgrims and foreign tourists than usual, with the Iraq crisis and political tensions between Israel and the Palestinians keeping visitors away.