BETHLEHEM, Holy Land, Oct 22, 01 ( / Catholic World News) -
Israeli soldiers moved into Bethlehem and surrounding towns in
force over the weekend in apparent retaliation for
Palestinian sniper attacks. Many Christians said they were
caught in the midst of the fighting in one of the holiest
Christian shrines.

Israel said Palestinian militants launched mortar attacks
against the suburb of Gilo from the courtyard of St.
Nicholas Church in the mainly Christian town of Beit Jala,
next to Bethlehem. The Israeli army did not return fire, a
spokesman said. A Christian walking out of the Church of
the Nativity was shot and killed over the weekend, which
Palestinian witnesses blamed on Israeli soldiers. An
adjacent Catholic church, St. Catherine's, was hit by two
bullets during Mass on Sunday, shattering windows, but
causing no injuries.

"There is a cynical and deliberate use of Christian holy
places by Palestinian militias in order to shoot against
Israel," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel
Nahshon. "This is done deliberately in order to provoke an
Israeli reaction, which would somehow put the Christian
world at odds against Israel."

The five-day Israeli occupation was meant to pressure
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to arrest and turn over
the militants responsible for the assassination of an
Israeli Cabinet minister last week. The Palestinians have
said they would try to bring the assassins to justice, but
not extradite them to Israel.

In all, 23 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in
the fighting since last Thursday, according to official sources.