|Israel||GOVT. FEARS SHRINE DISASTER|
The Israeli government has issued a warning that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre faces impending disaster because rival church leaders have failed to reach agreement on opening an emergency exit in time for the Pope's forthcoming visit to the Holy Land.
The Israeli authories have been trying to persuade the rival patriarchs - who control different parts of the church - to agree on a new door for the church, the site of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, to relieve the crush of the expected tourists. But the negotiations have now ended without agreement being reached. One narrow door serves as the only entrance and exit point, for the church, which was built by the Crusaders 900 years ago.
Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's public security minister, said: "There is no question a second door is needed. But out of respect for the sanctity of the site, the Israeli government will not take unilateral action to open an emergency exit. We will only do so with the agreement and co-ordination of the heads of the churches."
The Pope is due to make his first visit to the shrine, in the Old City of Jerusalem, in less than two months. One Israeli police commander said: "Five times more visitors are expected at the church this year than in an average year. It is a certain prescription for disaster."
Telegraph 12:15am 31/1/00