ISRAELI GOVERNMENT ASSURES VATICAN OF NAZARETH'S SAFETY
Response to Holy See's Unease over Construction of Mosque


VATICAN CITY, OCT 15 (ZENIT).- The Israeli government will do "anything
necessary to guarantee the liberty" and total security of the Christian
faithful in Nazareth, Shlom Ben-Ami, Israel's Minister of Interior
Security, said in a press statement, in response to a note of concern
published yesterday by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

According to Minister Ben-Ami, the proposal for a compromise solution
regarding the construction of a mosque of limited size "in no way will
damage the vital natural space of the Basilica of the Annunciation."
Ben-Ami stated that the large tent the Muslims have erected near the
Basilica of the Annunciation, where they intend to build the mosque, "is
illegal and must be dismantled"

The Minister's statement continues: "The obviously illegal situation
created in 1997 will come to an end. We can no longer tolerate it."
According to the Israeli proposal, the Muslims must remove the tent before
November 8, when the first stone of the mosque will be laid. "We are
determined to maintain law and order, without making concessions to anyone,
without making distinctions among the city's communities," the Minister
insisted. Today the Minister requested the help of leaders of Israel's Arab
municipal councils.

According to Ben-Ami, "an agreement that is oriented toward inter-religious
reconciliation in a mixed city like Nazareth is a proper message for all
confessions." The Minister ended his statement by saying that he "hoped
that every religious leader in Israel and the world will see in this
decision a message in accord with the meaning of the Millennium."

However, the government's decision was taken without considering the
previous municipal administration's exclusive allocation of the municipal
plot of land for a Square, to facilitate the reception of Jubilee pilgrims.
Neither does it take Christians' opinion into consideration, which is
shared by many local Muslims who are not fundamentalists, on the
inopportune construction of a mosque next door to the famous Nazareth
shrine, the objective of millions of Christian pilgrims. In addition, the
Israeli government has ignored the Nazareth district court, which
classified the fundamentalists' designs on the plot of land owned by the
municipality as unfounded.

Christians in Nazareth do not feel protected, nor do they feel like fully
qualified citizens of the state of Israel. Embittered, they say they have
lost their dignity -- sacrificed to political opportunism. For the last
three years they have been targets of violence by a group if Islamic
fundamentalists, who now regard themselves as rewarded, in their recourse
to forceful and anti-democratic methods to achieve their objectives.
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