- VATICAN CITY (AFP)
- The Vatican has put forward a plan aimed at peacefully resolving the
armed standoff between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen bunkered inside
Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, one of the holiest sites in Christendom.
- The report, from Italy's Ansa news agency, which quoted
the Rome-based spokesman of the Franciscan Order in the Holy Land that
has custody over the church, gave no immediate details.
- "I know both the Israelis and the Palestinians well.
They must accept these proposals before the situation gets out of hand,"
Father David Jaeger was quoted by Ansa as saying.
- The armed standoff between Israeli troops and Palestinian
gunmen bunkered inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, went into a
fifth day on Saturday.
- The Franciscan order in the Holy Land, which has custody
over the church, has voiced fears of an imminent Israeli assault.
- Occasional gunfire was heard coming from Israeli positions
around the church, built over the site where Jesus Christ is believed to
have been born.
- Palestinian lawyer Tony Salman, inside with around 200
armed gunmen and a handful of other civilians, said by phone that the shots
did not hit the church and that there was no other development in the standoff.
- The gunmen holed up inside the church on Tuesday after
Israeli forces stormed into Bethlehem as part of their West Bank sweep
that has seen them re-take six of the eight major Palestinian towns.
- Around 30 Franciscans are also inside the church. They
do not consider themselves hostages, and the Franciscan order said Friday
they would stay to prevent a "massacre" at the holy site.
- "Word is that the Israeli army has decided officially
to consider the monks in the Basilica of the Nativity as 'hostages'. We
heard a military commander say this on Italian radio," Father David
Jaeger, Rome-based spokesman for the Franciscans, told the Vatican news
agency Fides on Friday.
- "One cannot but fear that that is an attempt to
legitimise an armed assault, perhaps an imminent one," he added.
- The Israeli army tried in vain Friday to persuade Palestinian
gunmen hiding in the church to surrender.
- "It is unacceptable, under any pretext, to attack
a holy place," Father Jaeger told Fides.
- "Such an assault, no matter how it is presented,
would be a grave violation of a holy site, of the basic principles of humanity
and civilisation and of international accords," he added.