Top Franciscans Frustrated by Ongoing Siege at Basilica

27 Palestinians Are Released, But Situation Remains Deadlocked

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ROME, APRIL 30, 2002 ( The superiors of Bethlehem´s Franciscan friars criticized the world´s incapacity to find a solution to the siege of the Basilica of the Nativity.

Even the release of 27 Palestinians today does not mean that progress has been made toward a peaceful solution to the siege, Franciscan sources said.

In a written statement to ZENIT, the General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor «expresses its bitter disbelief at the incapacity of the civilized world to induce the Parties to accept and carry out a greatly longed for pacific solution.» The basilica has been under siege by the Israelis since April 2, after 200 Palestinians invaded the church.

The Franciscan order «is deeply pained» to learn that five days before the talks of the Israeli-Palestinian Commission, three Palestinians were shot and killed by the Israeli army in the basilica, and five others were wounded.

Father David Jaeger, spokesman of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, told the Misna missionary agency that despite today´s release, «there are still no elements to lead us to believe that we are faced with a decisive change.»

«I express our happiness for the 27 Palestinians who have been able to leave the church safe and sound and return to their families, but the problem of armed men occupying holy places remains,» the priest said.

The Palestinians who left the basilica, including youths and police of the Palestinian Authority, are in Israeli custody awaiting questioning.

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