Catholic World News
[APR. 08, 2002]

GUNFIRE HITS FRANCISCAN MONASTERY IN BETHLEHEM

JERUSALEM, Apr 7, 02 (FIDES/CWNews.com) -- Israeli
troops opened fire on the Franciscan monastery adjacent
to Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity early on Monday
morning, killing one monastery worker and causing a
fire in the monastery courtyard.

Stun grenades caused the fire, and Khaled Syam, 23, was
killed by rifle fire. The incident occurred at 3 am on
April 7.

Father David Jaeger, the spokesman for the Franciscan
Custody of the Holy Land, described the incident as "a
horrible act of barbarity, which will have unimaginable
consequences." He pointed out that the Israeli
government has given repeated assurances that there
would be no military action against the Christian
shrine.

Father Jaeger told the Fides news service that he had
immediately informed Israeli's deputy foreign minister,
Rabino Melchior, about the attack on the monastery, and
the Israeli official had denied any knowledge of the
attack. The Franciscan spokesman observed: "Either
government assurances are given with perfidy, or the
Israeli army no longer obeys its civil and political
authorities."

Inside the Church of the Nativity, Franciscan sources
reported that they had found some Israeli army
paraphernalia. They feared that this was an indication
that some Israeli troops had penetrated into the
building, where about 200 armed Palestinians have taken
refuge, and about 60 monks and nuns have been trapped
for almost a week. If Israeli soldiers are inside the
building, the Franciscan custodians worry, an armed
assault could be imminent.

Father Jaeger reported that the Franciscans were under
heavy pressure from Israeli officials to leave the
Church of the Nativity. The friars have resisted that
pressure, pointing out that the shrine is their home--
served by the Franciscan order for centuries.

The Franciscans gave their full support, however, to
the notion that the Palestinian gunmen might be
evacuated from the Church of the Nativity, and taken in
a convoy to another spot on the West Bank. Such a plan
was mentioned in the Sunday, April 7 edition of the
Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv. The report cited anonymous
Palestinian sources as the basis for the rumor, and
pointed out that the Israeli army would have to accept
the proposal.

Father Jaeger said that the plan "would be very
reasonable, an honorable and peaceful solution. It has
various positive points:  The Holy Place would be
evacuated by persons who do not belong there;  the
lives, safety and dignity of all the people involved,
armed or unarmed, would be saved; and the true
interests of all parties concerned protected."

Meanwhile, the confrontation at the site where Jesus
was born has taken a toll on the Franciscan community
and the neighboring Catholic population. Father Jaeger
pointed out that Catholics in Bethlehem were unable to
attend Sunday Mass at the church, since it is now
blocked off my the surrounding Israeli soldiers.

Inside the shrine, the Franciscan spokesman continued,
conditions are "deteriorating, the tension is
unbearable; the food emergency is now critical."