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Man details situation in Church of the Nativity

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on CNN.com providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNN) -- As many as 200 Palestinians, mostly men, are holed up inside the Church of the Nativity here, with Israeli tanks perched outside and Christian clergy blocked from getting in. The church is one of the holiest sites in Christendom; it is built over a cave that some believe was the manger where Jesus was born. One of those in the church, Anton Salman, a member of the Antonius Society, a humanitarian group in Bethlehem, talked with CNN anchor Daryn Kagan about the situation Wednesday.

SALMAN: I have been inside the Church of the Nativity since [Tuesday] night.

KAGAN: How did you end up inside the church?

SALMAN: In the afternoon, when the people entered the church, there were many rumors around Bethlehem that ... there were problems inside the church. The governor asked me to come with him to the church to see what is going on ... to solve the problem, if there were any problems.

KAGAN: How many people are inside the church?

SALMAN: It's around 200.

KAGAN: Are we talking men, women, children?

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SALMAN: Yes, mostly men.

KAGAN: Are they Palestinian gunmen?

SALMAN: They are from the Palestinian police and ... mostly from the Palestinian Authority police, who ran away to the Church of the Nativity to implore protection inside the church after [unintelligible] was bombed and shot at by Israeli tanks and soldiers.

And they saw their mosque, Umar, which is across from the Church of the Nativity, bombed. They were afraid, and they looked for a place to be secure. So they found the only way; they ran to the church and found a place to stay.

KAGAN: They not only picked a secure place, they picked one of most holy places in the world to Christians and put that in peril. Do they realize that?

SALMAN: We here understand our history, and that the Church of the Nativity [has been a sacred] place to the people during all wars. ... So from this point, they thought that the Church of the Nativity was a safer place to enter and ... entered the church looking for protection. They are still inside the church.

KAGAN: What are the conditions inside the church right now, in terms of supplies or if people are wounded?

SALMAN: The situation is very bad. It's very bad from all forms. ... The food that is in the convent in the church is going very, very quickly. ... Second, there are 10 injured people who are inside the church. One of them has very a serious injury and he ... has been bleeding since yesterday. They gave him first aid, but that's not enough. The Red Cross did not agree to come to the church to help or to take out injured people.

KAGAN: It sounds like you are ... going to have to leave.

SALMAN: The wounded people, they need to be hospitalized.

KAGAN: But what about the others?

SALMAN: I think [the situation here] must be [discussed] on the level of the high Palestinian political leader[ship] and the negotiators of the Israelis. The Israelis must come to negotiate for all that's going on in Palestine. And one of the [biggest] problems is what's going in Bethlehem.

KAGAN: But as far as the people holed up inside this very holy Christian site, do you know if talks are going on to try to get these people out?

SALMAN: Concerning what's going on in the church, yes. It's the most holy place in the world.

And I am Christian. I am, myself, a Christian and I am a believer. It's very difficult for me to accept that one day people would be inside the Church of the Nativity [like this]. It is something that I can't accept, and I will not be ready to accept these disasters, and especially inside the church -- a place like the Church of the Nativity.

KAGAN: And so as a Christian, you understand the significance of the site and that in a way you are holding this holy site hostage?

SALMAN: I have nothing do with all of these [problems]. I entered [the church] to solve the problem here. I am a civilian looking to solve a problem -- a humanitarian problem of the people are sitting here. I am not one of the persons who entered the church, [who were] running from the fire, but I entered after that -- maybe two hours after that.

KAGAN: And then, you went in trying to help. Why did you go in?

SALMAN: I think there is a responsibility of any civilian in any community. When you see somebody planning to attack your church, I don't think that you would say to me what is going on. [This is something] I believe in. You must find a solution for that, and the way to solve this is to help them.

KAGAN: As we talk, we hear some kind of guns or some kind of explosions in the background. Do you know what that is?

SALMAN: No.

KAGAN: You can't. OK. And just one more time in terms of conditions there, how long do you think that the people who are holed up there can stay without additional supplies and medical help?

SALMAN: I can't [comment] about [those] things.



 
 
 
 







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