JERUSALEM, Apr 12, 02 (CWNews.com) -- Explosions and
gunfire around the Church of the Nativity have raised
tensions to new levels.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported two explosions
from the vicinity of the church on Thursday night.
There were also reports of a fire, and smoke could be
seen coming from the area cordoned off by Israeli
troops. Ha'aretz explained that the troops had
deliberately blown up two vehicles which were suspected
of being car-bombs.

The Fides news service reported that Franciscan friars
inside the shrine heard gunfire. Father Giacomo Bini,
the minister general of the Franciscan order, told
Fides that "Israeli troops fired at the church of St.
Catherine, the monastery, the sacristy, and the

"The situation is deteriorating," Father Bini said from
his Rome office. "As time passes, the friars are
psychologicall yand physically ever weaker." There has
been neither food nor water delivered to the
Franciscans during the 11-day siege.

The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has again
protested the presence of Israeli soldiers inside a
House of Pilgrims operated by the Orthodox Church near
the Church of the Nativity. The soldiers have
reportedly set up military posts inside, and on the
roof of, the church property.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk, the chief
foreign-policy official of the Russian Orthodox Church,
wrote to Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
expressing "alarm with the strained situation in
Bethlehem in general, and with the Church of the
Nativity of Christ in particular."