Israeli Troops Fire On Bethlehem
Church Say Witnesses

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 Square.
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 the church.
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 compound.
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 Yasser Arafat.a

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