Both Sides Blame the Other for Fire in Monastery of the Nativity

But Franciscans Insist Israelis and Palestinians Are at Fault Together

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, MAY 2, 2002 ( Palestinians and Israelis blamed each other for the shooting that caused the blaze at the Shrine of the Nativity around midnight Wednesday.

The General Curia of the Friars Minor explained in a statement to ZENIT that the shooting «lasted about an hour, and resulted also in a fire engulfing the parish hall and parish offices, which are part of the Franciscan monastery within the sacred zone of the Nativity.»

«As usual, the Palestinians and the Israelis accuse each other of having started the shooting and caused the fire,» the Franciscans add.

A Palestinian militiaman was killed today by Israeli shots in the interior of the Basilica of the Nativity, and another was wounded, according to international agencies.

«This exceptionally grave incident highlights once more the explosive nature of the entire situation, where the armed Palestinians who have occupied the basilica, and the Israeli army which has laid siege to it are facing each other for a month now,» the friars said.

«The parties, the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, are responsible, jointly and severally, for this continuing intolerable and increasingly dangerous situation,» the statement continued. «The parties are likewise jointly and severally obligated to resolve it.»

«As has been said repeatedly, a peaceful resolution is not only obligatory, it is also possible, easily and speedily,» the Franciscans stressed.

There are now 19 Franciscan friars, four nuns, two Greek-Orthodox monks, and two Armenian monks in the buildings next to the basilica.

«It is impossible to justify the protracted stand-off and its consequences,» the Franciscans insisted.

The friars appealed once again to both sides «to let good sense, but also generosity, magnanimity and farsightedness, prevail over the primitive urge to humiliate the adversary and to win at all costs.»

«A gesture of good will toward the Church would win the parties´ appreciation that would more than make up for whatever puny tactical objective might be given up in the process,» the Franciscans´ statement concluded.

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