Bethlehem Opens Up Again

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BETHLEHEM: Israel has given up, and lifted the 28-day closure of Bethlehem which means TIME's West Bank correspondent Jamil Hamad, a resident of the city, can move relatively freely again. Palestinians had been prevented from leaving the town after last month's double suicide-bombing that killed 14 people in a Jerusalem market, as Israelis insisted the instigators of that attack were holed up in Bethlehem. But, Hamad says, a long-term shutdown of Bethlehem is not as easy as it seems: "Israelis have reached the conclusion that it is difficult to isolate Bethlehem because of its geographic nature. You need a full army to keep people from the valleys and mountains. It's difficult to monitor."

Not only that, but the closure had turned into a PR disaster for Israel. Clashes with stone-throwing protestors were bad for business. TV images of Bethlehem schoolgirls suffering the effects of an errant tear-gas cannister certainly didn't help. And then the Vatican complained that pilgrims couldn't visit Jesus' birthplace. So although Israel maintains that the bombers are still inside and that protests were motivated by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, they have decided to cut their losses and skip town.