Demonstrators hold prayer vigil at military checkpoint
Hundreds of Palestinians and foreigners led by Catholic priests staged a prayer vigil near one of the Israeli military checkpoints ringing Bethlehem.
The marchers, holding olive branches and coloured balloons, demanded Israel lift its sweeping travel restrictions on Palestinians.
Israel announced last week it would ease its blockade of Bethlehem, a town of 30,000 just south of Jerusalem in a Christmas gesture.
However, residents say restrictions remain and the town is still cut off the surrounding areas.
Leading the march, the head Catholic official in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, said Israel should reach out to the Palestinians.
"If they (Israelis) put an end to the occupation, they open the door to peace," said Patriarch Sabbah. "But if they keep occupation, they will open the door for more hatred and more killing."
He was accompanied by leaders of other Christian denominations. Marchers wore baseball caps in the green, white, black and red colours of the Palestinian flag.
The march set out from Bethlehem and headed to the main Israeli checkpoint on the northern edge of town, along the main road leading to nearby Jerusalem.
Israeli troops permitted the protesters to hold their prayer vigil about 100 meters away, but barred them from walking across the barrier and continuing toward Jerusalem.