Papal Envoy Happy with End to Basilica Siege

Cardinal Etchegaray Praises All Sides

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ROME, MAY 10, 2002 ( A papal envoy expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the 39-day siege of Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, which ended this morning.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, the man John Paul II sent to help work out a solution, was pleased with the final agreement on the fate of 13 Palestinians holed up in the church who are considered terrorists by the Israelis.

«All the participants in this obstacle course must be congratulated for the success achieved,» the cardinal said.

However, «much remains to be done to reach a just and permanent peace, not only in Bethlehem, but in the entire Holy Land,» he said. «The road will be long; the determined solidarity of all men and all peoples will be necessary to go forward.»

Early this morning, the bus transporting 13 Palestinians to exile left the square in front of the basilica, bringing to an end the siege by the Israeli army that began April 2 after armed and unarmed Palestinians invaded the historic site.

The 13 were put on a flight to Cyprus, to be transported later to countries that might shelter them, including Spain, Greece, Italy, Canada, Austria and Luxembourg.

An additional 26 Palestinians, considered by the Israeli army to be of «medium danger,» will be confined in the Gaza Strip.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio in Israel and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, confirmed over Vatican Radio the decisive role of mediation played by Cardinal Etchegaray.

According to Archbishop Sambi, the cardinal «was of decisive importance in making almost visible John Paul II´s daily concern, his word, his prayer to reach a solution to the problem of Bethlehem.»

«He succeeded in making it visible not only to the Christian world of the Holy Land, and to the universal Christian world, but also to the Israeli and Palestinian authorities,» said the archbishop, who was the cardinal´s host last week.

During his stay, Cardinal Etchegaray met with Israeli President Moshe Katsav and with President Yasser Arafat of the National Palestinian Authority.

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