Hope in Bethlehem Over Withdrawal of Israeli Army

Father Ibrahim Faltas Stresses the Safety of Pilgrimages in the Area

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JERUSALEM, JULY 1, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The custodian of Bethlehem’s Basilica of the Nativity says the planned withdrawal of the Israeli army from the city is raising hopes for peace.

Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas, the custodian, made his comment as the Israelis planned to begin their withdrawal on Wednesday.

A «road map» for peace sponsored by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations has, among other objectives, the declaration of the sovereignty of the Palestinian state.

The population of Bethlehem, facing an 85% unemployment rate, has received the news of the military withdrawal with relief, said Father Faltas, who played a key role during the siege by Israeli troops of the Basilica of the Nativity in 2002.

The withdrawal, «together with the truce, which we hope will last more than three months, might trigger a certain recovery, including economic, also making possible the taking of groups of pilgrims to Holy Places,» the religious said.

«The Holy Places are safe and can be visited without problems,» he added. «The Bethlehem Grotto awaits the pilgrims. It would represent a hope for all the population.»

It is an appeal shared by Father Giovanni Battistelli, custodian of the Holy Land, who said he is «timidly confident» by the truce. The «great confidence that Palestinians have in Abu Mazen, allows one to have hope in the future, also because of the commitment of international diplomacy,» Father Battistelli added.

The Israeli withdrawal from the northern section of the Gaza Strip and the truce declared by Palestinian factions constitute the first steps of a staggered and long process of pacification which, if successful, would culminate in the implementation of the «road map.»

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