Israeli Army Delivers Small Rations to Basilica

Talks Continue to End 3-Week Siege in Bethlehem

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, APRIL 26, 2002 (ZENIT.orgFides).- Israel´s Supreme Court rejected a bid for restoring electricity and phone service to the Basilica of the Nativity, but only with the army´s assurance that food supplies would be allowed to the besieged community, a Franciscan says.

The Franciscan Custody made the legal request for restoration of the utilities. Following the court´s rejection of the request, the Israeli army said that it, and not the Custody, would supply food to the basilica compound.

For 31 friars, the army delivered seven cucumbers, seven potatoes, seven onions, three tomatoes, two small cans of meat, two small cans of tuna fish, a kilogram of pasta, a kilogram of rice, two cans of peas and two small packets of Alawi Arab cookies. The Custody offered to pay for the food.

Various sources say both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian talks on ending the 3 1/2-week siege «have considerably softened.»

Anxious for a solution, Palestinian member of Parliament Salah al´Tam´ari asked the Israelis to allow him access to Ramallah. There, he hopes to meet Yasser Arafat today and have him approve a compromise to overcome the stalemate.

Father David Jaeger, Holy Land Custody spokesman, told the Vatican agency Fides: «What we need now is an act of generosity on the part of the leaders on both sides, to end this calvary of Bethlehem which has lasted for too long.»

On Thursday the Israeli troops allowed the bodies of two dead Palestinians to be taken away and nine young Palestinians to leave the besieged compound.

The nine boys were questioned, searched and then given an army safe-conduct to their home towns. Later, one of the youths was arrested. The army says he is a suspect terrorist who was trying to escape.

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