Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Israeli Gunmen Kill Nine at Door of Christ's Church'

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Israeli Gunmen Kill Nine at Door of Christ's Church'

Article excerpt


NINE Palestinians were killed today in a gunfight with Israeli forces surrounding Bethlehem's Basilica of the Nativity, Palestinian sources have reported.

As the stand-off at the church, built over the site where Christ is said to have been born, entered its fourth day, Palestinians inside the church said the nine men had died when Israelis " machinegunned and threw bombs at the main entrance to the church".

Israeli forces have refused to let journalists into Manger Square and there is no way of independently verifying the Palestinian claims.

Bethlehem remained under a 24-hour curfew as Israeli paratroopers and infantry conducted house-to-house searches looking for gunmen and other militants blamed for terrorist attacks on Israel.

Bethlehem's old city, which was restored at a cost of [pound]130million ahead of the millennium celebrations, is today a battlefield strewn with spent cartridges, broken glass, torn steel doors and shattered masonry.

Palestinians cowered in their homes as the walls of the ancient town were shaken by explosions.

From the near distance the sound of heavy weapons being fired as Israeli troops swept through Deisha refugee camp could also be heard.

Palestinians have complained that the Israelis have shown "complete disregard for the sanctity of holy places" and have invaded churches and mosques across the West Bank. The Israeli defence forces have denied these claims.

Today's reported killings came as Israeli premier Ariel Sharon continued to defy calls by President George Bush to end his invasion.

In a surprise about-turn, the US has told the Israelis to get back to the negotiating table and is sending secretary of state Colin Powell to the region to bring maximum pressure to bear for an end to the crisis.

But with Mr Powell not due to arrive until next week and neither Mr Bush nor the UN setting any timescale on Israel's withdrawal, Mr Sharon's military action continued apace. …

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