Siege Will Last Until Surrender, Israeli Tells Pope
President Katsav Sends Letter About Basilica to John Paul II

JERUSALEM, APRIL 10, 2002 ( Israeli President Moshe Katsav notified the Pope that the Israeli army will continue its siege of the Basilica of the Nativity until the Palestinians holed up there surrender.

The text of a letter from Katsav to John Paul II was published this afternoon by the Israeli Embassy in the Vatican.

"We have no alternative but to prevent armed Palestinian terrorists, who have murdered innocent Jews and taken refuge in a holy Christian sanctuary, from escaping and continuing their acts of bloodshed," the president states in his letter.

Representatives of all the Christian Churches in the Holy Land had requested the organization of an internationally protected convoy to enable the 200 Palestinians to come out of the basilica. Many of them are policemen and militiamen who have taken refuge in the sacred place.

Katsav explained that ending the siege by giving the gunmen safe conduct would "constitute a grave danger to public safety," and Israel has "no choice but to maintain our presence in the immediate area."

Over 30 Franciscan religious, several Franciscan nuns, and six Armenian monks are also locked in their residences at the basilica. One monk was seriously wounded by gunfire today.

Israel's president explained that his country's forces are under orders not to fire on churches. They intend "to extricate these Palestinian terrorists unharmed from the church," he wrote. But the troops will "continue to refrain from taking actions that may harm the church or its clergy," he added.

Armenian Monk, 23, Wounded in Bethlehem Basilica
Not Clear If Shot Came from Israelis or Palestinians

JERUSALEM, APRIL 10, 2002 ( A 23-year-old Armenian monk was seriously wounded this morning in the premises of Bethlehem's Basilica of the Nativity, but not in danger of death.

The monk was taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem.

"He has still not recovered consciousness," Bishop Shirvanian Aris, director of ecumenical and foreign relations of the Patriarchate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, told the Misna missionary agency.

"The doctors have stopped the intense hemorrhage and have described his condition as stable. He might possibly be operated on Wednesday night or Thursday morning," the bishop said.

The wounded monk is Armen Fianian, a novice of the Armenian community, which resides in the old monastery of the basilica. He was in his cell when he was hit in the back by a bullet.

"We still cannot confirm if the shot came from the Israeli or Palestinian band," Bishop Aris explained.

The Palestinians holed up in the church blamed Israeli soldiers. For its part, the Israeli army said the monk was wounded by Palestinians who started shooting when Israeli soldiers tried to take medicines and food to the monks.

There are six monks in the buildings of the Armenian Orthodox community. Asked if they would be evacuated, Bishop Aris answered: "It is an issue that is out of the question at this time. The priority now is Armen's health."

For over a week now, more than 200 Palestinians, most of them armed, have been holed up in the basilica. The holy place is surrounded by the Israeli army, which periodically asks the Palestinians to surrender.

"The tension is very high. Frenetic work is being done in the hope of resolving the situation before it explodes in our hands, with new armed action," the spokesman of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Father David Jaeger, told the Vatican agency Fides.