Jerusalem Israeli tourism workers are handing out candy and welcome cards to foreign visitors this Christmas as their numbers swell to levels seen before fighting with the Palestinians broke out seven years ago, officials said Tuesday.
Israel expects 2.3 million tourists to visit the country this year, the closest the Jewish state has gotten to the peak year of 2000, when 2.7 million came, said Tourism Ministry Director General Shaul Tzemach.
Tourism officials say the renewed peace process has helped.
Bloodshed has dropped significantly in recent years, prompting a return of tourists. While only 880,000 visited in 2002, the figure rose to 1.9 million last year, ministry statistics show.
The improved trust between Israel and the Palestinians means tourists are also visiting the West Bank, especially the town of Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace. About 340,000 tourists crossed from Israel into Bethlehem by the end of October, up from 200,000 in all of 2006, according to the Tourism Ministry.