Israeli Army Attack at Bethlehem Basilica Roils Franciscans

Fire Started on Purpose to Cover Up Incursion

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2002 ( The Franciscans at the monastery next to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem accused Israel of attacking the sacred place early today and causing a fire.

Father Gianfranco Pinto Ostuni, press director of the Minor Friars´ General Curia, told Vatican Radio that the «fire was caused by the assault of the Israeli special troops. It began at 3:15 a.m. and ended around 4:30 a.m.»

«Israeli soldiers were lowered from the roofs with ropes,» he added. «They destroyed stained glass windows and seriously damaged an old mosaic that is in the basilica, in the area administered by the Armenians.»

«Suffice it to know that during the different invasions of Bethlehem this mosaic saved the basilica. Invaders respected that church because of the mosaic´s remarkable artistic value,» he said. «This time there has been no mercy.»

Father David Jaeger, spokesman for the Custodians of the Holy Places, told the Vatican missionary agency Fides: «This is a horrible act of barbarity, which will have unimaginable consequences.»

Franciscan priests said that personal belongings of the Israeli troops were found inside the monastery, Fides reported. Father Jaeger believes that this means that some Israelis had penetrated the compound and are hiding, awaiting a blitz.

Israeli military said the fire was caused on purpose to cover up a Special Unit incursion.

Father Jaeger, an Israeli himself, exclaimed: «This strike, this violation of a sacred place, is hallucinating. This is not worthy of my country!»

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