225 People In Church Of
Nativity Face Starvation

By Janine di Giovanni in Bethlehem
The Times - London

Food inside the besieged Church of the Nativity is growing scarcer, with the 235 civilians, fighters and members of the clergy now existing on a diet of water and some vegetables taken from the back garden under the eyes of Israeli snipers.
The men and women, who have been trapped inside the church for nearly three weeks, are growing more desperate and hungry.
Mohammed Madoni, the Governor of Bethlehem, speaking to The Times by mobile phone from inside the church, said: ìThe situation is more serious than ever. But we will never give up. Itís not even to be mentioned.î Mr Madoni said that no one will countenance the Israeli proposal that the wanted men be deported to Jordan. Instead, the Governor said that the group would propose that the fighters be offered safe passage to Gaza or Jordan and then tried under Palestinian law.
Inside the church, he said, the situation was growing desperate. By Saturday, the group was reduced to a diet of water and salt, but now even salt had run out.
ìToday one of us managed to get to the back garden at great risk and dig out some vegetables,î he said. ìThe Israelis shot at him but he was not hurt.î
Two dead bodies remained inside the Basilica and there was no way of burying them. ìIt is impossible for them to get outside long enough to dig a hole without getting shot at,î a Roman Catholic priest in Bethlehem, who communicates with the group, said.
According to Peter Qumi, director of the nearby Beit Jala Hospital, there are several people inside with gunshot wounds.ìThey have no medics or nurses inside and are just managing the best way that they can,î he said.
There is running water inside the compound and three lavatories for the group. Also inside is a 14-year-old boy suffering from kidney disease, whom Mr Madoni has tried to persuade to leave. ìI have begged him but he refuses.î
Despite that, Mr Madoni said that none of the people trapped inside has been fighting, despite earlier reports that they fight among themselves for food.
Food is the paramount concern: ìIf we donít have a military disaster, we will have a starvation disaster,î Mr Madoni said. According to Dr Qumi, the group will not live longer than seven or eight days without food.
The Pope has called for an end to the stand-off at the Church of the Nativity. The pontiff made his appeal for peace during his Sunday address, decrying the violence seen in an unending stream of news and images.
ìThese pictures have more force than any appeal and push us not to leave any attempt untried, so that that land, blessed by God, can emerge soon from the spiral of hate and violence,î he said.,,251-275578,00.html

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