Israelis Cut Off Bethlehem Franciscans´ Telephone

Friars´ Superiors Make Appeal to Embassy and to Palestinian Officials

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ROME, APRIL 23, 2002 ( Superiors of the Franciscan order have voiced their concerns to Israel after its officials cut off telephone service to the friars confined in Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity.

The move effectively cut off the religious from communicating with their superiors and the outside world. Last week John Paul II spoke with them by phone to encourage them.

The basilica has been besieged by the Israeli army since April 2, when over 200 Palestinians, many of them armed, invaded the historic site.

The government of the Order of Friars Minor has called the Israeli Embassy in the Vatican several times to express its concern, as the religious in the basilica are being deprived of water, food and electricity, sources of the Franciscan General Curia told ZENIT. Phone service was cut about three days ago.

In a telephone conversation with Yosef Neville Lamdan, Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, the superiors of the 35 Franciscan friars and four nuns confined in Bethlehem reminded them of “the heroism of the Franciscan friars during the Second World War.”

They risked their lives and their own religious communities to save many Jews from extermination, the Franciscan superiors reminded the ambassador.

On Sunday, the Franciscan superiors in Rome appealed to Nemer Hammad, the National Palestinian Authority´s representative in Italy, to “do everything possible so that a peaceful solution to the crisis is found immediately.”

The Franciscans referred to the open letter written to Yasser Arafat by some Italian bishops and mayors of Italian cities twinned with Bethlehem. In the letter they implore the Hammad to “remove every obstacle that might hinder the immediate start of negotiations” for the liberation of the basilica.

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