Papal Aides Ask World Solidarity to End Bethlehem Siege

For Now, Italy Refuses to Receive 13 Palestinians

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 8, 2002 ( Two papal aides appealed to all countries to help assume responsibility for peace in the Holy Land.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, special papal envoy to the Holy Land, appealed today for international solidarity to put an end to the five-week siege of Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity. The siege has not ended because several countries refuse to receive 13 Palestinians who are inside the basilica. Israel considers the 13 to be terrorists.

According to an agreement reached between Palestinians and Israelis with U.S. mediation, the refugees should have been received by Italy. But the Italian government refused to accept them because it was never officially informed of this possibility during the talks.

In a statement at the end of his mission to Jerusalem, Cardinal Etchegaray acknowledged that this «new obstacle» impedes «the happy outcome anxiously awaited by all.»

«No one can remain with his arms crossed, when the hands of all should form a great chain of solidarity, from East to West,» he added.

In a statement published by the Vatican Press Office, the cardinal also said he would have liked to have visited Bethlehem, to pray with the Franciscan friars of the Nativity, but his «intense supplications» were rejected.

For his part, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, was also explicit: «The states must each assume their part equitably in the commitment to liberate Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity.»

In the context of a visit to the Shrine of the Virgin of Pompeii in southern Italy today, Cardinal Sodano added that «Italy has always been ready to listen to the whole world.» The cardinal is confident that if «clear and concrete proposals» are made, Rome will respond positively.

He condemned the Tuesday attack near Tel Aviv as «an act of extreme gravity, which must not be an obstacle to the tireless search for peace.»

«Neither bombs nor suicide-attacks can resolve the problem,» Cardinal Sodano said. «Violence leads nowhere. The Israelis must respect the U.N. resolutions and withdraw from the Occupied Territories, and the Palestinians must admit that problems are not solved with violence.»

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