Basilica of Nativity Caught in Crossfire

A Most Anguishing Situation, Says Father Erando Vacca

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, OCT. 22, 2001 ( Israeli public television has shown pictures of the Basilica of the Nativity, one of Christianity´s most treasured churches, with bullet holes. It is not yet clear who is responsible for the attack.

Israeli soldiers and tanks have paralyzed six West Bank cities. The Israeli government said that the land offensive against the Palestinian Authority is designed to exert pressure on Yasser Arafat to fight against terrorism, not to destroy him politically.

The offensive is Israel´s reaction to last Wednesday´s assassination of extreme right Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

To understand the situation of the Palestinian territories better, once again under military occupation, Vatican Radio interviewed Father Erando Vacca, president of the Salesian Technical School in Bethlehem, who has lived in the Middle East for the past 36 years.

–Q: What is the situation like?

–Father Vacca: The situation has been extremely difficult in the past two days. Sunday was an especially hard day. We could hear the gunfire and machine guns from both sides, the Palestinian as well as the Israeli.

People cannot leave their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire. The streets are virtually empty. The shops are almost all closed. People cannot go to work, or children to school. Many families are in truly disastrous conditions.

It is difficult to know who began the shooting, so that it is almost impossible to know at this time who fired shots in Bethlehem´s square.

–Q: Can you confirm that the Basilica of the Nativity was targeted? Have you been there?

–Father Vacca: We have followed the pictures on television. I think I saw that the rear window of the basilica was shattered by bullets. After dining, I went over to the square and at first sight it did not seem as if there was serious damage. I do not think shells fell as some had said.

–Q: On Sunday the Pope made an anguished appeal in reaction to the news coming from Bethlehem, as well as from Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. Is the situation that serious?

–Father Vacca: Yes, there is a general emergency. Before, these places were called the Christian triangle. In fact, in the localities of Beit Saur, Bethlehem and Beit Jala there have been very fierce armed confrontations. Many families live in terror. It is a most anguishing situation.

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