Gunfire Erupts Around
Bethlehem's Nativity Church


(AFP) - Shooting erupted around the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported, with firing appearing to come from both Palestinians inside the church compound and from Israeli forces besieging it.
A Palestinian inside the church with some 200 Palestinians, including wanted gunmen, told AFP by telephone that gunfire was being exchanged, and that the Israelis tossed a tear-gas grenade into the church compound at the start of the gun battle.
He said one of the rooms in the compound caught fire in the exchange, which the Palestinians said caused no injuries to those holed up inside.
A bus also caught fire outside the compound's Saint Catherine church, the Roman Catholic church built adjacent to the basilica of the Nativity, a Greek Orthodox church marking the site where most Christians believe Jesus Christ was born.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said the gun battle was started by militants holed up inside the church compound, where the Palestinians and 30 monks have been encircled for 21 days.

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