Abbas, in Christmas message, says committed to negotiate peace deal

Photo: Abbas, in Christmas message, says committed to negotiate peace deal / Israel-Arab Relations

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a Christmas message from the West Bank, called Jesus a role model for the Palestinians, dpa reported.

Referring to Christ as "a Palestinian messenger," Abbas said that "as we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later, we do our best to follow his example. We work with hope, seeking justice, in order to achieve a lasting peace."

He criticized Israeli restrictions on the entry of Palestinians living abroad into the West Bank, as well as Israel's controversial West Bank security barrier, which cuts off Bethlehem, which he charged "steals land."

"We celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem under occupation," he said in the Christmas statement from Ramallah.

Abbas, scheduled to attend Christmas in Bethlehem on the southern West Bank Tuesday, Christian Arabs were not a minority in Palestine, but "an integral part of the Palestinian people."

The vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, however, are Sunni Muslims.

He expressed hope that the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land in March would be "a good opportunity for Christians from all over the world to come closer to their sisters and brothers in Palestine, and for His Holiness to spread the message of justice and peace for the Palestinians, as for all peoples of the world."

Abbas said he was committed "to bringing a just peace to the region" through negotiations with Israel by ending the occupation and the establishment "of a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian State on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital."

The annual traditional Christmas procession from the Christian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City to Bethlehem, led by Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, is scheduled to leave shortly after 12 am (1000 GMT).

The traditional Christmas mass is scheduled to start at 11:30 pm (2130 GMT).

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