Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

Church official: Nativity standoff 'waiting to erupt'

An Israeli army flare illuminates the Church of the Nativity compound Wednesday.
An Israeli army flare illuminates the Church of the Nativity compound Wednesday.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The humanitarian situation inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is quickly deteriorating, according to an Anglican Church official trying to negotiate an end to the standoff at the West Bank holy site that has lasted more than a week.

"It can best be described as a volcano in the Church of the Nativity which is waiting to erupt and it will erupt at any moment ... unless we can manage to mediate a way to meet the urgent humanitarian needs, " Canon Andrew White said Thursday.

White is the Anglican Church's Mideast envoy, one of several Christian representatives involved in negotiations to end the standoff at the church, built on the spot said to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. More than 200 Palestinians and about 40 religious workers have been holed up in the church since April 2.

The Israeli army said that a meeting had been scheduled for Wednesday night between five Palestinians from inside the church with representatives of the Israel Defense Forces.

Mideast violence
 CNN NewsPass Video 
  •  Palestinian politics
  •  IDF: Arms workshops destroyed in Rafah
  •  Gallery: Palestinian fatalities
  •  Victims of terror
  • Orchestrating a common ground

The IDF said its representatives waited for the Palestinians to come to the meeting but they never showed up.

White said he hoped that Israeli authorities would allow humanitarian workers Thursday to remove the body of a dead Palestinian policeman. An Israeli sniper shot and killed the policeman three days ago, according to a priest inside the compound.

Israel said many of the Palestinians inside are armed and on its wanted list. However, one church worker said the Palestinians were seeking shelter from the Israeli incursion into Bethlehem.

White said the negotiations have been difficult because officials are dealing with so many different factions and parties on the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

Israel said many of the church workers are being held hostage inside the church's compound. However, White said that was not his understanding, based on his conversations with people inside the compound.

"We can certainly say that those inside are afraid to leave, but I do not think ... that we can say they are being held hostage," White said. "The Israelis are saying that the religious leaders may leave the compound, but they're afraid to do so because they want to maintain the sanctity of the holy place."

At least four priests have left the church since the standoff began.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces shot and injured an Armenian monk as he walked through the compound near the church. The IDF said it "deeply regrets" the incident, which occurred as Israeli troops were delivering food and medicine to the church.

The monk was taken to a Jerusalem hospital, where he was in intensive care after surgery.

"You have a group of people in there who are possibly responsible for terrorist activities, according to the Israeli side," White said, "and at the same time you have many innocent civilians and religious people in there, and they're all mixed up together in a place which is designed for worship and not for living."




Back to the top