Catholic World News
[APR. 16, 2002]


JERUSALEM, Apr 16, 02 (FIDES/ -- Heavy
gunfire has been reported around the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem, according to the Reuters news

The sound of gunfire, along with several explosions,
was reported after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
claimed that Palestinian negotiators had backed out of
a compromise deal that would have allowed for the
peaceful evacuation of the shrine. Palestinian leaders
deny that any such agreement under discussion.

The BBC news service also reported "heavy gunfire" at
the Church of the Nativity, and cited Palestinian
claims that Israeli soldier had unsuccesfully stormed
the church. Israeli officials denied that they were
attempting an assault on the basilica.

Inside the Church of the Nativity, where they have been
barricaded beside Palestinian gunmen for two weeks,
Franciscan friars were "not informed" about the process
of any negotiations, according to Father David Jaeger,
a spokesman for the Franciscion Custody of the Holy

Two elderly friars were transferred out of the basilica
on Tuesday afternoon to receive medical care, with the
prior agreement of Israeli military officials. The two
were suffering from medical conditions that had been
aggravated by the long siege inside the church, which
now lacks food, water, and electrical power.

Some news reports have indicated that the Franciscan
nuns inside the Church of the Nativity were allowed to
leave. "That report is not true," said Father Jaeger.
"The nuns, who are also suffering, continue to fulfill
their duties, side by side with the friars."