Israel said it welcomed a record number of visitors in the millennium year but there was a dramatic slump in the final quarter of the year because of the wave of bloodshed gripping the region.
The total number of visitors in 2000 reached 2.67 million, up four percent over the year before, the tourism ministry said, the highest since the Jewish state was established in 1948.
Israel had earlier projected the number of tourists to swell to 3.2 million in 2000, with pilgrims expected to follow in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II who toured the region in March to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.
But in the final three months of the year, there were only just over 400,000 visitors, down more than 50 percent on the same period in 1999, a hefty decline the ministry described as "exceptional" because of the security situation.
"Over the next few months we will still feel the slowdown relatively hard but we hope that if things change on the geo-political front and image-wise we will be able to rebuild the situation over the course of the year," a ministry official said.
The Palestinian uprising flared after a visit on September 28 by hardliner Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the al-Aqsa mosque compound inside Jerusalem's walled Old City, a hotly contested site holy to both Muslims and Jews.
Since then, more than 380 people have been killed, most of them Palestinians. The United States, the biggest market for Israel, last year issued a travel warning urging its citizens to defer all travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza because of a "heightened threat of terrorist incidents.” — (AFP, Jerusalem)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )