Distraught Christians closed churches in Jesus' boyhood town today and some, armed with clubs, patrolled streets in response to weekend clashes with Muslims.
    Two days after the outbreak of sectarian violence, the town of 42,000 Muslims and 18,000 Christians was still simmering with fear and suspicion.
    In the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Al Mutran, dozens of young men stood guard outside a small chapel, St. Mary's, at nightfall Monday. The Muslims ``started it, and we're answering,'' said Gabi Maji, a member of the neighborhood watch. ``We're defending the lives of our children.''
    A car driven by a Muslim was pelted with stones in Al Mutran after some claimed the driver had made insulting comments about Jesus to those patrolling the neighborhood. A priest in a long blue robe shook his head dejectedly and pleaded with the young men over a loudspeaker to hold back, with some success.
    Disappointed tourists visiting Nazareth's major attraction -- the Basilica of the Annunciation -- found locked gates today, with a notice posted on the doors in English explaining that the closure was an act of protest against assaults on Christians.
    ``This is not the way it should be. It's horrible for the people who were attacked,'' said Lars Petersen, 33, an elevator repairman from Copenhagen, Denmark, as he stood outside the church where tradition says the Angel Gabriel told Mary she was pregnant.
    With the millennium only nine months away, the Christian-Muslim tensions are hurting plans by the Israeli government to turn Nazareth into a showcase for pilgrims now that Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace, is under full Palestinian control.

8/04/99 10:27:31 / AP


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