Gunbattle Near Church of Nativity, One Palestinian Killed; Combats in Jenin, Nablus Leave More Palestinians Dead

Published April 8th, 2002 - 02:00 GMT

The sound of gunfire and small explosions were heard early Monday in Bethlehem outside of the Church of the Nativity, where Palestinian gunmen and clerics have been holed up for seven days, a priest said. 

 

Black smoke also rose from one of the windows of the compound belonging to the church, built over the traditional birthplace of Jesus, but it was not immediately clear what was burning. 

 

Father Ibrahim Faltas, the superior of the Franciscan community in the church, told AP he heard the shooting just outside of the building. He said that Israeli soldiers did not enter the church, and he did not know what started the gunbattle. 

 

Israeli soldiers have been using loudspeakers to demand that the gunmen surrender, but they have refused to come out. The troops have been reluctant to storm the church. Any damage to the sacred site would cause an international uproar. 

 

Mohammed al-Madani, the governor of Bethlehem told Reuters by telephone from inside the church that soldiers in the municipality building 100 meters to the west and gunners in two tanks to the south were shooting at the church. One Palestinian policeman was reported killed. Two Israeli border police officers were wounded in this incident - one seriously, one moderately.  

 

The fire caused a blaze in the offices belonging to a local monastery, which the policeman, Khaled Siyam, was trying to put out, the governor of the West Bank city said.  

 

It was also not immediately clear if some 200 gunmen trapped inside the church with several members of the clergy were firing back. Al Madani said the army was preventing firefighters from attending the blaze.  

 

Meanwhile, helicopter gunships fired early Monday 18 or 19 missiles into a West Bank refugee camp on the western edge of the city of Jenin, witnesses said. The attack came after Israeli troops used loudspeakers to warn Palestinian activists about the attack and urge them to surrender, witnesses said. 

 

Three Israeli soldiers were wounded in Jenin Monday morning, one of them seriously, Israel Radio reported. Israeli soldiers were surrounding a small area in the refugee camp in which Palestinian gunmen were hiding.  

 

In Nablus, six armed Palestinians were killed in fighting Monday morning, Israel Radio reported. It said that about 20 armed Palestinians had given themselves up in this West Bank city, but that the "hard core" of Palestinian fighters remained.  

 

Israeli officials said they do not expect a head-on collision with the US over President George W. Bush's call, repeated by Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice Sunday, for Israel to pull out of the Palestinian cities immediately.  

 

The officials said Israel would begin withdrawing from those Palestinian towns where the Israeli army believes it has largely accomplished its goals, senior Israeli diplomatic officials said. (Albawaba.com)

© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)


© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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