JERUSALEM, Apr 11, 02 ( -- The Franciscans
inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem have
issued an urgent call to international leaders to help
arrange for the withdrawal of 200 armed Palestinians
from inside the church.

From Rome, the minister general of the Franciscan
order, Father Giacomo Bini, relayed the plea for a
negotiated end to the standoff at the shrine built on
the site of Christ's birth. Speaking "in the name of
all Franciscan," Father Bini said that the Palestinian
gunmen must be allowed to leave, in order to avoid "a
humanitarian catastrophe" and "useless bloodshed."

The Franciscan leader also reiterated the insistence of
the Franciscans in Bethlehem that they are not being
treated as hostages. "To date, none of the roughly 200
Palestinians who are with the friars has committed any
act of violence."

The spokesman for the Franciscans in Jerusalem, Father
David Jaeger, told the Fides news service that the
friars inside the church still do not have water or
electricity-- although those utilities have been
restored to the adjacent Orthodox monasteries, and even
to the area where the Palestinian gunmen are staying