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Armenian monks safe in Bethlehem, for now

Armenian monks safe in Bethlehem, for now
By Hratch Tchilingirian, London

“We are waiting for the arrival of our fate,” says Fr. Joundourian

IntraPress News, 5 April 2002 — The seven Armenian priests and
monks trapped in the Armenian section of the Church of Nativity in
Bethlehem are safe, said Fr. Khat Joundourian, 34, deputy abbot of
the Armenian monastery in Bethlehem in a telephone interview this
morning (Friday, 2:30 AM Bethlehem time) as the military operations
in the area continued.

Yesterday Israeli tanks and army units battled with Palestinian
gunmen in and around Bethlehem’s Manger Square. Some 200 people
found refuge in the ancient Church, the traditional birthplace of
Jesus. The Armenian monastery (or section) is located within the
larger compound of the Church.

“Since Monday [April 1] we have not been able to go out,” said Fr.
Joundourian. “We performed our last liturgy on Tuesday. As the
fighting intensified, we closed ourselves inside our compound and
did not allow anyone to come in. There are just seven of us here
[four priests and three monks] inside our quarters; we are not
opening it to anyone.”

The Vatican has been trying to negotiate an end to the entrapment
of the 200 people inside the main Church, among them reportedly
Palestinian gunmen. Fr. Joundourian did not exclude the possibility
of a forceful entry into the Church in view of the intensity of
incidents he has seen in the last few days.

He said there is enough food for the monks confined within the
Armenian section. “We bought extra food and stocked provisions last
week in anticipation of the situation getting worse,” he said. “We
cannot even go downstairs [inside the main Church area], we are
following the events on TV and radio.”

While anxious about the uncertainty of the current situation and
its potentially violent end, “We are ready for any eventuality, for
whatever is going to happen,” Fr. Joundourian said stoically. “We
are praying for a peaceful end to this whole situation.”

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