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Bethlehem hotels teem with tourists, defying tensions over Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM — In the West Bank town revered as Jesus’s birthplace, hotels were at full capacity for Christmas despite simmering Israeli-Palestinian tensions over President Donald Trump’s labeling of nearby Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“We have not witnessed any cancellation since the Trump announcement and are 100% booked for Christmas Eve,” said Palestinian Tourism Ministry public relations director Jeries Qumsieh.

Mr. Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement on Jerusalem outraged the Palestinians, who claim the sacred city’s eastern sector — home to sites holy to the three monotheistic religions — for a future capital.

It sparked demonstrations across the broader Muslim world as well.

The United Nations General Assembly is to vote Thursday on a resolution critical of the step after the US vetoed a similar one in the Security Council earlier last week.

The Palestinian Authority is anticipating a record 2.7 million tourists this year, a jump from 2.2 million in 2016.

Mr. Qumsieh attributed the rise to active marketing in Islamic countries like Indonesia and Turkey as well as cultural draws such as street artist Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, which faces the 26-foot-high concrete security barrier, topped with barbed wire, that Israel built along and inside the West Bank.

Mr. Qumsieh said interest in the three-story guesthouse, where rooms have a view of the graffiti art that covers that section of the barrier, drove up tourism numbers.

The hotel addressed Mr. Trump’s Jerusalem move on its Web site’s home page.

“Ever since President Trump’s announcement about moving the US embassy, there has been potential for unrest in the region,” it says.

“The situation is currently perfectly fine.”

Italian Mario Ricci, 38, is visiting Bethlehem for the first time this year. He said he didn’t fear for his safety, but regretted that frictions had been aggravated by the US declaration.

“I chose Christmas time to be here because I wanted to live and feel the Christmas spirit,” he said.

“It’s sad what’s happening in this part of the world. This is the city of peace, and what Trump did is only going to ignite the region and not bring peace.”

Mr. Qumsieh said the ministry worries that if tensions aren’t defused, tourism may suffer.

In past years, violence with Israel has had a drastic impact on visits to the region. — Bloomberg