Thousands of Christian pilgrims, including top European Union diplomat Catherine Ashton, celebrated Christmas Wednesday in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

The small city of Bethlehem, which claims its place as the supreme spiritual center of the Christian world every Dec. 25, is packed with tourists, many of them pilgrims who had visited the Church of the Nativity to kneel before the star that marks the birthplace of Jesus.

An Efe reporter observed long lines at the basilica, with people from around the world strolling the town's streets on Christmas morning and visiting holy sites, shops and markets.

Some 10,000 visitors spent Christmas Eve at hotels in Bethlehem, which has a population of about 25,000, while others traveled back and forth from Jerusalem, which is only seven kilometers (4.3 miles) away.

"We attended Christmas Eve Mass last night and today we plan to return to see the city in the daytime and visit the holy sites," Marta Rincon, a Spanish tourist, told Efe, adding that spending Christmas in Bethlehem "is a dream."

Some 50,000 people, including foreign pilgrims and Palestinian Christians from the area, entered Bethlehem starting on Tuesday to celebrate Christmas and attend Mass, the Palestinian Tourism Ministry said.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal called in his homily for a "just solution" to the conflict in the Middle East, urging Palestinians and the international community to not forget the day-to-day problems in the West Bank and Gaza strip. EFE