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ACCESS TO BETHLEHEM TO BE EASED FOR 2000

Israel and the Palestinian Authority announced the creation of a joint committee Monday to ease travel between Bethlehem and Jerusalem for a mass of millennium visitors.

"If we coordinate, everything will go smoothly for the year 2000," said Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Minister Mitri Abu Aita after accompanying his Israeli counterpart, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, on a tour of Bethlehem.

"Cooperation, free passage in all directions, you know this is very important," he said.

The Israeli army operates a fortified checkpoint on the main road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian self-rule.

Tourism officials have said they fear massive traffic jams as an unprecedented number of tourists and pilgrims arrive throughout the year to celebrate 2,000th anniversary of Jesus' birth.

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