JERUSALEM, Mar. 8, 01 ( - Israeli soldiers have
imposed a blockade on the primarily Christian village of
Bir Zeit in the West Bank on Wednesday, according to local
sources, digging a trench and a blockade across roads
entering the town.

The blockade affects up to 25 Palestinian villages and
65,000 residents, and water pipes and telephones lines have
reportedly been cut as well, although phone services was
still available in some locations. The complete closure
also denies access to food supplies and health care

The blockade comes as students at Bir Zeit University, the
major Palestinian academic institution, were to begin their
new term on Wednesday. As the siege of the town began, 6,000
students, faculty, and staff were prevented from reaching
the university campus.

Father Iyad Twal, the local Catholic priest, said that
cellular phones are the only means of communication with
the outside world. "This is the first day Sharon will take
power, God help the souls of people in the days to come,"
Father Iyad said as he pleaded for Americans to raise their
voices in protest. "Please keep our brothers and sisters in
your prayers and raise your voices to put an end to this
brutal occupation, and let the people live!!!"

According to Dr. Albert Aghazarian of the public relations
department of Bir  Zeit University and other residents of
the 25 villages affected, there have  been no recent
clashes or demonstrations in the area. Furthermore, there
have been no shootings from these villages at Israeli
soldiers or settlers. Local sources said the siege was
being imposed as a form of collective punishment for the
ongoing unrest.