Tanks Again Surround Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity

To Avoid Another Standoff, Say Israelis

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JERUSALEM, MAY 27, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Israeli tanks surrounded Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity today, «to avoid Palestinian militiamen taking refuge in its interior,» Israeli military officers reported.

Father Ibrahim Faltas, a superior of the Franciscan community, told the Misna missionary agency that tanks began to surround the building at 4 a.m.

As a precaution, the Franciscan friars and the Armenian and Greek-Orthodox monks have closed all the doors of the basilica and of their monasteries, Father Faltas said. Palestinians, including gunmen, invaded the basilica early last month, triggering a monthlong siege by Israelis.

«The city of Bethlehem is deserted; the soldiers order the people through loudspeakers to remain in their homes, not to move. A curfew has been declared. From the monastery I see the empty streets,» Father Faltas said.

Western diplomatic sources explained that, with the new encirclement of the Christian shrine the Israeli army wants to avoid the strategic error it committed April 2, when it surrounded Bethlehem and, as it advanced toward the center, pushed the Palestinians to take refuge in the sacred place.

At least 16 men have been detained by the Israeli forces in the Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, among them Ahmed Al Mugrabi, an alleged leader of the Brigade of Al-Aksa Martyrs, considered by the Israel to be a «terrorist activist of a very high degree,» and his brother, Ali Al Mugrabi.

The Al Mugrabi brothers were arrested together with Mahmud Sarjana, and the sister of a suicide woman, who attacked the entrance of a supermarket in Jerusalem´s Kiriat Yovel neighborhood March 29.

The last Israeli invasion of West Bank cities, villages and refugee camps began March 29 with the taking of Ramallah and ended May 10 with the liberation of the Basilica of the Nativity.

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