- BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters)
- For three decades, Samir Ibrahim Salman rose every day at dawn to ring
the bells of the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's holiest
sites, in Bethlehem.
- At 6:30 a.m., the middle-aged Christian Palestinian left
home for the short walk across Manger Square to the church, where Israeli
troops were besieging about 200 Palestinians, some of them armed, who took
refuge there Tuesday.
- Moments later he was shot in the chest.
- "As soon as he left his house, a sniper shot him,"
Anton Salman, a distant cousin of the bell-ringer, told Reuters by telephone
from the West Bank town.
- Palestinians are convinced an Israeli fired the fatal
bullet. The Israeli army said troops had fired no shots near the church.
It had no knowledge of Salman's fate.
- "He had been used to ringing the church bells at
dawn every day since 1967," Anton Salman said. "Almost everyone
in Bethlehem knows him."
- Medics said Salman bled for hours in the square before
an ambulance was able to reach him. By then he was dead.
- Anton Salman said his cousin was a familiar sight to
many Bethlehem residents accustomed to seeing him make his way, back slightly
bent, across the square to the ancient church, built above the site where
Christians believe Jesus was born.
- "Apparently he was unaware of the danger. He was
a simple man who spent most of his time in the church. He never bothered
anybody or hurt anyone," he added.
- Israeli troops occupied Bethlehem along with other Palestinian-ruled
West Bank cities and towns in a military offensive which Israel said was
aimed at hunting down suicide bombers who have killed dozens of Israelis.
- Hospital staff say at least 13 Palestinians have been
killed since tanks and armored troop carriers swept into the town Monday,
the day after Easter.
- A handful of Palestinian fighters skirmished with the
Israelis, but most have now melted away except, possibly, for some gunmen
who took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, mingling with dozens of
nuns, priests and civilians.
- Israel says some of the gunmen are militants suspected
of carrying out attacks against the Jewish state.
- "It's a shame. Samir won't be able to wake up Bethlehem
on his church bells any more," Anton Salman said.
- Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited
without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable
for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance