President Katsav Sends Letter About Basilica to John Paul II

JERUSALEM, APRIL 10, 2002 ( Israeli President Moshe Katsav notified the Pope that the Israeli army will continue its siege of the Basilica of the Nativity until the Palestinians holed up there surrender.

The text of a letter from Katsav to John Paul II was published this afternoon by the Israeli Embassy in the Vatican.

“We have no alternative but to prevent armed Palestinian terrorists, who have murdered innocent Jews and taken refuge in a holy Christian sanctuary, from escaping and continuing their acts of bloodshed,” the president states in his letter.

Representatives of all the Christian Churches in the Holy Land had requested the organization of an internationally protected convoy to enable the 200 Palestinians to come out of the basilica. Many of them are policemen and militiamen who have taken refuge in the sacred place.

Katsav explained that ending the siege by giving the gunmen safe conduct would “constitute a grave danger to public safety,” and Israel has “no choice but to maintain our presence in the immediate area.”

Over 30 Franciscan religious, several Franciscan nuns, and six Armenian monks are also locked in their residences at the basilica. One monk was seriously wounded by gunfire today.

Israel’s president explained that his country’s forces are under orders not to fire on churches. They intend “to extricate these Palestinian terrorists unharmed from the church,” he wrote. But the troops will “continue to refrain from taking actions that may harm the church or its clergy,” he added.