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Monk shot and seriously wounded in Bethlehem

By Amos Harel Ha’aretz Correspondent
Ha’aretz Service and Agencies

A monk was shot and seriously wounded in the Church of the Nativity compound
in Bethlehem.

A senior IDF source confirmed that Armenian monk, Armin Sinanian, 22, in the
compound, where dozens of Palestinian gunmen have been holed up with a group
of monks since last week, had most likely been hit by IDF fire.

Doctors reported Wednesday afternoon that Sinanian came out of surgery and
that his condition is stable. Sinanian is in the intensive care unit at
Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem.

Military sources say that according to an initial investigation conducted by
the army, it appears that the monk was mistakenly shot by an Israeli sniper.
The monk was one of four clergymen who wanted to take water into the Church
of the Nativity, and it appears he was shot when the sniper tried to hit an
armed man standing next to them, but hit the monk instead.

According to reports on the ground, the monk was shot by Israeli troops
positioned in the guest wing of the Franciscan monastery. IDF sources insist
that the wing is not part of the monastery but is actually located in a
nearby hotel, but the Franciscans have disputed this, saying that the wing
is part of the Nativity Church compound.

Katsav: Israel will not allow gunmen to escape Bethlehem church
Pope John Paul made a fresh appeal for peace in the Holy Land. “Pray for
peace in the Holy Land!” the Pope repeated three times with feeling and in a
strong voice as he departed from his text during his general audience in St.
Peter’s Square.

As the Pope spoke, diplomatic sources made available a polite but firm
letter from President Moshe Katsav about the standoff between Israelis and
Palestinians at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Jesus’s birthplace.

“Under the circumstances, I regret that with all the respect and
consideration we have for the Christian holy places, we have no alternative
but to prevent armed Palestinian terrorists, who have murdered innocent
Jews, from escaping and continuing their acts of bloodshed,” Katsav told the
Pope.

Katsav’s letter was a clear rejection of a proposal by Vatican and Church
representatives in the Holy Land to end the standoff. Under the proposal,
Palestinians would be given safe passage to the Palestinian-controlled Gaza
Strip, leaving their weapons behind.

“Our objective remains to extricate these armed terrorists, unharmed from
the church,” Katsav told the Pope. “Since giving safe conduct to the
extremely dangerous terrorists presently in the church would constitute a
grave danger to public safety, we have no choice but to maintain our
presence in the immediate area,” he said in the letter, written in English.

Lieberman: use gas to force Palestinians out of Nativity Church
Far-right National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu party chief Avigdor Lieberman said
Wednesday that Israeli forces should employ gas to force Palestinian
militants out of the Church of the Nativity.

Lieberman told Army Radio that instead of endangering IDF infantrymen,
Israel should order aerial bombings of militants in refugee camps. He said
that the United States and NATO had often taken this course in the past,
adding that “In southern Afghanistan, there were days that the United States
wiped out 400 people a day in aerial bombings.”

The former cabinet minister quit the government last month in protest over
perceived policy concessions by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over Yasser
Arafat and his Palestinian Authority.

Repeating a demand that the IDF go after Arafat physically in the Ramallah
compound to which the PA leader has been confned, Lieberman said he would
tell the cabinet, were he still a member:

“I demand erasing the mukata (Arafat’s compound) from the face of the earth,
with everyone inside. I demand going into every single hole, carry out a
total mobilization, and clean out the area, but with a thorough-going
cleaning – not an effort here and an effort there, not a limited operation,
but an full-out war. How long do we have to talk about these bandits, these
criminals, these terrorists?”

Asked if he also advocated destroying the Church of the Nativity, by
tradition the site of the birth of Jesus and one of the holiest sites in
Christianity, Lieberman said “We don’t need to. We have enough (other)
means.

“We can put gas in there and take them out – they’ll simply come out,”
Lieberman said. “We have enough techinical means. We need neither harm the
church nor obliterate it. It all depends on the political echelon. It must
make a decision and give the order to get them out of there.”

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