- BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters)
- Palestinians said Israeli troops laying siege to Palestinian gunmen holed
up in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity had opened fire on Monday but
the Israeli army denied there had been any shooting.
- A Reuters television crew reported explosions and flashes
emanating just after midnight from the West Bank city's centre, Nativity
- A Palestinian witness said there had been no casualties.
- Abu Youssef, a Palestinian who described himself as a
civilian pinned down in Nativity Church along with scores of gunmen and
clergymen since the Israeli army invaded Bethlehem on April 1, said the
surrounding troops had opened fire unprovoked.
- "Israelis fired on the church heavily and threw
sound (stun) grenades at the church, but we have no injured," Abu
Youssef told Reuters by telephone.
- He added that the gunmen in the church, believed to mark
the site of Jesus's birth, did not shoot back.
- The army denied there had been shooting in or around
- Israel has said it would not violate the sanctity of
the church, which was stormed by Palestinian gunmen seeking refuge from
the Israeli army's West Bank offensive, launched on March 29 after a wave
of suicide bombings against Israelis.
- Since then, two Palestinians have been killed, and an
Armenian priest and two Israeli soldiers wounded, in clashes around Nativity
Square. The Israeli army says the gunmen have fired from within the church
- On Sunday, Israel gave visiting U.S. Secretary of State
Colin Powell a proposal for ending the stand-off, whereby the gunmen in
the church could surrender and be tried in Israeli military court or go
into exile forever.
- Bethlehem Governor Mohammed al-Madani, himself cooped
up in the church, rejected the proposal outright. He said the Palestinians
in the church would abide by any solution endorsed by Palestinian President