JERUSALEM, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Israel's Christian community is fully active in the life of the nation and is strong and growing, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a Christmas message.
In a taped Christmas greeting, Netanyahu said "Israel is proud of its record of religious tolerance and pluralism, and Israel will continue to protect freedom of religion for all," The Jerusalem Post quoted the Israeli prime minister saying Monday.
He called on Christians around the world to "recall the places where Judaism and Christianity emerged, and then come see our ancient land with your own eyes." Visit Bethlehem and Nazareth and the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Netanyahu said, "and next year come visit our eternal capital Jerusalem."
In Bethlehem thousands of locals and tourists prepare to celebrate Christmas eve, gathering outside the Church of the Nativity, officials said.
In the city a huge Christmas tree stands in Manger Square, which was lit by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with other political and religious officials a week ago, Ma'an news agency said.
Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah told the news agency some 15,000 tourists are expected to participate in Christmas celebrations in the city.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will attend midnight mass services in the city with Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judah, the agency said.