Israeli border guards launched a tear gas attack at Palestinian protesters clad in Father Christmas outfits in a tense skirmish at the separation wall that runs through the West Bank on 24 December.

One demonstrator wearing the traditional red-and-white Christmas outfit was pictured lobbing a tear gas canister back at the Israelis. Another Palestinian was seen lying on his back, gasping for breath after inhaling tear gas.

The marchers, carrying the green, red, black and white flag of Palestine, were protesting against the separation wall that runs through Bethlehem and the West Bank area. The protest was launched under the banner "Terrorism and occupation are two sides of the same coin".

Around 100 protestors gathered in front of Checkpoint 300, where Israeli soldiers control Palestinian movement between the occupied West Bank cities.

"Jesus came with a message of peace, his city suffers oppression," one demonstrator's sign read. "Santa Claus stands with the Palestinian people," read another.

The Palestinians are seeking the opening of Israeli checkpoints for Christian visitors to celebrate in the place where they believe Jesus Christ was born. Around 60,000 Christian tourists are expected to visit the Holy Land this December.

There were reports of Israeli forces firing rubber-coated steel bullets into the crowd, according to Ma'an News Agency.

There were several journalists at the demonstration, five of whom were injured, including the cameraman for the Jordanian al-Roya TV Muhammad Shoudha. Gas canisters were reportedly aimed directly at his foot by Israeli forces.

An Israeli border police spokesperson told Ma'an that "15 men in the afternoon threw rocks at Israeli soldiers." He added that "some of them were dressed as Santa Claus and tried to cross the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem."

Two Israeli soldiers were hit by rocks lobbed at them by the protestors, although they are not believed to be seriously injured.

Political activists say that the tourism industry has drastically declined, with Israeli authorities continuing to tighten control over Palestinian movement, as the Israeli occupation now enters its 50th year.