Franciscan Proposal to End Siege of Bethlehem Basilica

Request Negotiated Solution to Palestinians´ Confinement

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ROME, APRIL 11, 2002 ( The superior of the Franciscans called for a humanitarian intervention in favor of the friars of Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, and urged a negotiated settlement to the siege.

Father Giacomo Bini, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, published a statement today in which he states that Israeli soldiers appear to have occupied part of the Franciscan monastery. Here is the text of the statement:

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In the name of all the Friars Minor, of those in the Holy Land in particular, I wish to clarify some points that have not emerged clearly up to now, or could be misunderstood, and present some demands.

1. The Need for an Immediate Humanitarian Intervention

2. The Friars in Bethlehem Are Not Hostages

3. A Possible Solution

1. The situation that has come about in the complex of buildings of the Nativity in Bethlehem, part of which pertains to the Custody of the Holy Land, and which has already lasted for two weeks, requires an urgent humanitarian intervention. Since yesterday evening, the supplies of water and food have run out; the removal of the body of the young Palestinian killed has not been permitted; it is not possible to provide suitable care to the other gravely wounded Palestinian; the supply of electric power, available in adjacent buildings, has been cut off from the Franciscan Convent alone; permission has been denied to enter the «Casa Nova,» a structure for the reception of Pilgrims and an integral part of our Convent; it is feared that special forces of the Israeli Army are already in position inside.

2. I wish to firmly state that the Friars and Sisters of the religious community in Bethlehem cannot be considered as hostages. They have freely chosen to remain in that place, the custody of which has been entrusted to them by the Holy See, and which constitutes their home. The other 200 Palestinians besieged inside the Basilica have taken refuge there by force in order to flee from the sweep and search by the Israeli army, just as had happened to the 5 Italian journalists during the first day of the siege. Up to now they have not committed any act of violence or abuse of power against the religious community.

3. While expressing the most absolute condemnation of every act of violence — from whichever side it comes from — we confirm our solidarity with all those who suffer as a consequence of the serious conflict taking place. In order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, a pointless spilling of blood, which would inevitably lead to a worsening of the hatred between the parties, we urgently request that the Palestinians be allowed to leave the building of the Nativity, guaranteeing them their life, and thus permitting our Communities to take up their work of pacification once again. Such a solution would open up a fresh glimmer of hope for dialogue, the only way to procure a civilized coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, and which would guarantee an honorable way out to all parties concerned.

The whole world is watching with attention that which is happening in the Place where Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, was born. Millions of men and women are waiting for the renewal of the miracle of new life that overcomes all thoughts and actions of death. We continue to receive moving testimonies of solidarity with our brothers, who are facing up with admirable equanimity to the difficulties associated with the dramatic situation in which they live.

To all — journalists, communications operators, men and women of good will — we ask that you act, in accordance with your possibilities, to favor an equitable conclusion to this event. It would be a sign of hope and a promise of stability for the future of this Holy and bloodstained Land.

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