BBC News, UK
Dec 21 2006

A mass was held in the Grotto, thought to be Jesus' birthplace The
Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in
England and Wales have arrived in Bethlehem on a Christmas pilgrimage.

Rowan Williams and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said they wanted
to highlight how Israel's security measures were strangling the town.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said Israelis and Palestinians needed
international support to solve their problems.

Two other church leaders joined them on the four-day visit to the
Holy Land.

The two archbishops travelled with Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian,
of the Armenian Church of Great Britain, and the Rev David Coffey,
of the Free Churches.

Jesus' birthplace

During their visit, they toured the Church of the Nativity and recited
prayers in the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born.

The church leaders are concerned about the effect of the barrier
separating the West Bank from Israel on Christians living in the

Dr Williams said he also worries about an exodus of Christians from
Bethlehem, changing its historic Christian nature.

You cannot expect with this intractable position for the Israelis
and the Palestinians to do it all by themselves

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor

"The sheer variety of communities within the Palestinian areas has
always been one of its strengths.

"Co-existence has been easy and often fruitful.

"If that were to end that would be a very sad signal for the Middle
East and the rest of the world."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor has previously said the town was "blocked in"
by the Israeli security wall and checkpoints.

Speaking on BBC News 24, he said: "You cannot expect with this
intractable position for the Israelis and the Palestinians to do it
all by themselves."

He said the international community needed to help resolve their

BBC correspondent Wyre Davis, who is in Bethlehem, said in a good
year 50,000 pilgrims would visit Bethlehem, but this year fewer than
5,000 are expected.

He said some say this is a consequence of the wall, but Israel argues
it is because of general violence in the region.