Obama visits the Church of the Nativity

As a fierce sandstorm blew into Bethlehem from the Negev Desert in the south, President Barack Obama made his final stop on his three-day visit to Israel and Palestine before he flies to neighbouring Jordan.

The weather reportedly forced him to travel the short distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by road rather than helicopter.

Amid tight security, he entered the ancient Church of the Nativity, where along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he stepped down the tiny stone staircase to the small cave below to visit the spot that marks the manger in which Jesus is believed to be born.

After a week of anti-Obama protests, the mood in the Old City of Bethlehem was subdued on Friday, the overwhelming presence of Palestinian security forces making any kind of demonstration all but impossible.

Adnan Sobeh, a shop-owner in the Old City whose business has been hit hard by the restrictions imposed by the Israeli security barrier, held out little hope that Mr Obama's visit would bring change. "

So many tour groups just go from the bus to the church & then straight back to Israel," said Mr Sobeh.

"Israel actively discourages tourists from staying in Bethlehem - it has been hurting is for years."

The story Obama visits the Church of the Nativity first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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