Israeli Army Attack at Bethlehem Basilica Roils Franciscans
Fire Started on Purpose to Cover Up Incursion

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2002 ( <>.- The
Franciscans at the monastery next to the Basilica of the Nativity in
Bethlehem accused Israel of attacking the sacred place early today and
causing a fire.

Father Gianfranco Pinto Ostuni, press director of the Minor Friars' General
Curia, told Vatican Radio that the "fire was caused by the assault of the
Israeli special troops. It began at 3:15 a.m. and ended around 4:30 a.m."

"Israeli soldiers were lowered from the roofs with ropes," he added. "They
destroyed stained glass windows and seriously damaged an old mosaic that is
in the basilica, in the area administered by the Armenians."

"Suffice it to know that during the different invasions of Bethlehem this
mosaic saved the basilica. Invaders respected that church because of the
mosaic's remarkable artistic value," he said. "This time there has been no

Father David Jaeger, spokesman for the Custodians of the Holy Places, told
the Vatican missionary agency Fides: "This is a horrible act of barbarity,
which will have unimaginable consequences."

Franciscan priests said that personal belongings of the Israeli troops were
found inside the monastery, Fides reported. Father Jaeger believes that this
means that some Israelis had penetrated the compound and are hiding,
awaiting a blitz.

Israeli military said the fire was caused on purpose to cover up a Special
Unit incursion.

Father Jaeger, an Israeli himself, exclaimed: "This strike, this violation
of a sacred place, is hallucinating. This is not worthy of my country!"