BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The tourism industry in Palestine has suffered a serious decline as a result of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, the head of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said Saturday.
Tourism has declined by approximately 60 percent since the beginning of the assault, which in addition to causing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza has led to increased tensions in the West Bank, Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah told Ma'an.
Before the war, the tourism sector was experiencing a boom, but thousands of tourists have since canceled their reservations, Maayah said.
In August 2013, 83,000 tourists visited Palestine, but as war raged in Gaza at the beginning of August 2014, only 17,000 tourists visited.
Hotel owners say all rooms would have been booked in September if reservations hadn't been cancelled as a result of the Gaza war, the minister told Ma'an.
Maayah said she hoped tourism would improve ahead of the Christmas season, a time which typically sees the Palestinian city of Bethlehem swarming with tourists.
Separately, the war on Gaza has done physical damage to some of Palestine's historical and religious sites, she told Ma'an.
The Strip's ancient seaport, which is the site of a port believed to have been used in the spice trade in the first century B.C.E and later by the Romans, was damaged during the war.
The port, which has not been in operation since the imposition of the Israeli blockade on Gaza in 2006, was about to be named on the UNESCO world heritage list, Maayah told Ma'an.
Additionally, old mosques in Gaza such as the Hashim al-Mamlouki mosque and the al-Omari mosque were damaged, as well as the Prophet Yousef's sanctuary, she said.
Israeli forces bombed the historic al-Omari Mosque in the northern Gaza City of Jabaliya on Aug. 2