Israeli tour guides and tour operators have been permitted to return to Bethlehem for the first time in nearly a decade.

Prior to this agreement between the Israel Ministry of Tourism and tourism officials in the Palestinian Authority, Israeli guides were not allowed to work in the West Bank. When tours crossed into the West Bank from Israel, Israeli guides were replaced by Palestinian guides.

Tourists, tour guides, travel agencies and operators had been requesting that Israeli tour guides be permitted to accompany travelers to religious and touristic sites during their visits to Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority, according to the Israel Tourism Ministry.

"We are thrilled travelers from around the world are now able to visit Bethlehem under Israeli guided tours," Arie Sommer, Israel's tourism commissioner for North and South America, said in a statement. "We hope this initiative will garner new interest in tourism to Bethlehem."

According to news reports, 50 Jewish and Druze tour guides have been approved from an applicant pool of 500 to work in Bethlehem.

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