JERUSALEM, Apr 10, 02 (FIDES/ -- Diplomatic
efforts to resolve a standoff at Bethlehem's Church of
the Nativity have been stepped up, but no resolution is
in sight, and "tension is still very high," according
to a Franciscan spokesman.

After nine days inside the shrine-- located on the site
where Jesus was born-- the occupants are without food
and water, and an Israeli blockade prevents the
delivery of supplies. About 200 armed Palestinian
troops are inside the building, together with 40
Franciscan friars, four nuns, and small contingents of
Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks.

An Armenian monk was shot and wounded on Wednesday, as
he stood at a window in the shrine. The shot apparently
came from outside the building. An Israeli army
spokesman said that the monk was hit by gunfire from
Palestinian troops inside the building. Father Armen
Sinanian was taken to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem
for treatment; he is reported in serious condition.

The body of a young Palestinian, killed during an
Israeli strike early on Monday morning, has still not
been buried. The body has been moved to the coolest
place in monastery, in the Greek Orthodox part of the
compound. Father Ibrahim Faltas told the Fides news
service that he had asked the Israeli army to allow a
Red Cross ambulance to take the body of the youth and
return him to his family. The military agreed, but no
ambulance has arrived.

Father David Jaeger, the spokesman for the Franciscans
in Jerusalem, told Fides that diplomats and Church
officials "are working hard to settle the question
before it explodes with more military intervention."

In Rome, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See charged
that the Palestinian gunmen had committed a "war crime"
when they occupied a house of worship. He said that the
Palestinians were using the Church of the Nativity as a
"military objective," in violation of the Geneva

The April 10 edition of the official Vatican newspaper,
L'Osservatore Romano, expressed new fears of an Israeli
army assault on the Church of the Nativity. The paper
also condemned the Palestinian bombing in Haifa, which
killed 13 Israeli soldiers. "The abyss that is opened
up by hatred has no bottom," the paper said.


VATICAN, Apr 10, 02 ( -- Pope John Paul II
has received fresh Israeli assurances that there will
be no military assault on the Church of the Nativity.
Still, at his regular public audience on Wednesday, the
Pontiff asked for prayers for peace in the Holy Land.

The Holy Father told about 17,000 people in St. Peter's
Square that they should join him in prayers. "Ask the
Blessed Virgin to intercede, to assist with the
different efforts undertaken by all parties to overcome
the tragic situation into which these people, so badly
tested, have now fallen," he said.

The Pope had received a personal letter from Israel's
President Moshe Katsav, guaranteeing the security of
the holy places. The Israeli leader said: "All members
of the Israeli armed forces have received orders that
they should not shoot into, or violate the sanctity of,
ecclesial territories." Katsav charged that Palestinian
gunmen had "desecrated the sanctity of churches under
their jurisdiction several times," and that churches
were being used as "bases of operation" by Palestinian

Regarding the Church of the Nativity, the Israeli
president told the Pope that he could "scrupulously
assure you that the basilica is not about to be a
center of hostilities." He said that although military
operations would continue in the area, "the basilica
will remain untouched by all Israeli forces." Israeli
forces, he said, would attempt to remove the
Palestinians inside the church without violence.