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World - Middle East

Peace doves take flight in birthplace of man behind millennium

The release of 2000 doves welcomed the New Year in Bethlehem  

December 31, 1999
Web posted at: 7:40 p.m. EST (0040 GMT)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNN) -- Two thousand "doves of peace" took wing in the midnight sky over Bethlehem to mark Christianity's third millennium on Saturday in the town where Jesus was born.

Millennial celebrations were almost absent in nearby Jerusalem, where Jews observed the Sabbath and Muslims the Ramadan holiday.

The birds soared into the air to the sounds of classical music and the eruption of fireworks bursting over Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.

Security was tight in the Palestinian-ruled West Bank town, where most of the thousands of revelers were local Palestinians.

Police said they had briefly detained six tourists -- two Africans and four U.S. citizens -- to check whether their faces fit descriptions provided by Israel of religious fanatics suspected of planning violence. All were released after the checks proved negative.

The festivities in Bethlehem also had a distinctly political ring. They included raucous celebrations of the 35th anniversary of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and his plans to declare an independent state in 2000. Earlier Friday an emotional Arafat addressed the largest rally since his 1994 return from exile.

A quiet night
A quiet night at the Mount of Olives  

Jerusalem quiet as Sabbath and Ramadan observed

The number of international tourists visiting the Holy Land over Christmas and the millennium New Year has fallen far short of expectations, with some tourists apparently scared off by a U.S. State Department warning of possible extremist attacks and worries about Y2K computer glitches at home.

In Jerusalem, hundreds of thousands of Muslims gathered Friday at the Harem Al Sharif compound in Jerusalem's Old City for the yearly devotions of Ramadan.

There were forecasts of possible violence by Christian extremists and other militants, but the ceremonies proceeded without major incident. Much of the city remained quiet, with Jewish-run businesses closed Saturday in accordance with Sabbath tradition.

Security nonetheless was tight, with some 3,000 Israeli police officers put on special standby in the city and all roads around the Old City's walls, and in the Old City itself, closed to traffic.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers, Correspondents Bill Delaney and Jerrold Kessler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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