The Israel Ministry of Tourism and tourism authorities from the Palestinian Authority unveiled a new initiative last week that allows Israeli tour guides and travel operators to return to Bethlehem.

Requests from tour guides, tourists, travel agencies, and tour operators suggesting that Israeli guides be able to accompany travelers to religious sites during their visit to Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority were the motivation for the new initiative.

“Our Christian friends will be able to visit the sites in Bethlehem that are so important to their faith with Israeli guided tours,” said Arie Sommer, Commissioner for Tourism, North and South America. “We are confident that this new initiative will result in more Christians visiting Bethlehem.”

May marked the sixth consecutive month of record-breaking tourism to Israel. This was an increase of 33% over May 2009 and 4% over May 2008. Over 1.4 million tourists have visited Israel since the beginning of the year, an increase of 42% over the same period last year and 11% more than 2008, which was Israel’s record year for tourism to date.

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