Franciscans refuse to quit besieged birthplace of Christ
Weak, hungry and at growing risk, a group of Franciscan friars and nuns gathered in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem at the weekend for a ceremony in which they agreed to continue to remain inside the besieged basilica, despite a lack of food and water.
A spokesman for the friars, Fr David Jaeger, said that the several dozen clerics agreed at a "solemn ceremony" to stay in the church, where more than 200 Palestinians are holed up, surrounded by Israeli troops.
He said the position was becoming "extremely dangerous" and urged both sides in the stand-off to accept a solution before it is too late, underscoring the risk that one of the world's most famous Christian sites could soon become the scene of a historic disaster.
The church, which contains an underground grotto marking the birthplace of Christ, has been ringed by Israeli troops, tanks and snipers for a fortnight
Fr Jaeger accused Israel of refusing to allow deliveries of food and water, and said the last supplies of bottled water inside the church appear to have been exhausted.
The Israelis have said that the clerics are free to leave, but the Franciscans - traditional custodians of Christian sites in the Holy Land - insist that they must stay to protect the sanctity of one of their faith's most sacred shrines.
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15 Apr 2002