Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 8, 2002
Jesus' birthplace comes under seige
Vatican sends strongly-worded communiques
By CINDY WOODEN
Catholic News Service
The Vatican's alarm over the Israeli siege of Bethlehem and the fact that Palestinian militia members had holed up inside the Church of the Nativity has been communicated to Israeli, U.S. and Arab League representatives.
In the discussions, the Vatican criticized the "injustice and humiliation imposed on the Palestinian people" and the wave of reprisals that only "increase the sense of frustration and hatred," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, met the morning of April 3 with ambassadors from the United States and Israel.
Another official from the Vatican Secretariat of State, Msgr. Celestino Migliore, met with the Arab League's representative to the Vatican, Mohamad Ali Mohamad, explaining the Vatican's position and "insisting, in particular, on the need to put an end to indiscriminate acts of terrorism," the spokesman said.
As part of what Israel described as a campaign to uproot terrorists, the Israeli army moved into more Palestinian towns in late March, often searching house by house for suspected terrorists.
Israeli tanks rolled in early April, and when fighting began April 2 Palestinian gunmen took refuge inside the Church of the Nativity and inside the convent of the Sisters of St. Brigid.
The Palestinians left the convent early April 3, but that evening several hundred were still inside the Church of the Nativity, which marks the place of Jesus' birth.
Zvi Tal, Lamdan's deputy at the Israeli Embassy, said April 3 the ambassador has assured the Vatican that its army "has no intention whatsoever of opening fire on the Church or shelling the compound" where some 30 Franciscan friars and sisters live.
Navarro-Valls said the Vatican officials made five key points in each meeting:
Navarro-Valls said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, has been in close contact with Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem and with the religious communities of men and women in Bethlehem.
- "The unequivocal condemnation of terrorism, from whatever side it comes.
- "Criticism of the conditions of injustice and humiliation imposed on the Palestinian people, as well as for the reprisals and retaliations, which do nothing but increase the sense of frustration and hatred."
- The need for Palestinians and Israelis to respect the resolutions of the United Nations aimed at bringing a ceasefire, promoting Palestinian statehood and guaranteeing the security of Israel.
- The need to ensure "proportionality in the use of legitimate means of defence."
- "The obligation the conflicting sides have to safeguard the holy places, which are very important for the three monotheistic religions and for the patrimony of all humanity."
Sodano communicated to them "the solidarity of the Holy Father at this painful moment."
U.S. Ambassador Jim Nicholson and Israeli Ambassador Yosef Neville Lamdan said they were given "diplomatic notes" to pass on to their governments, expressing the Vatican's concern for the worsening situation in Israel and Palestinian territories.
The two also told Catholic News Service that Tauran explicitly recognized Israel's need to guarantee the safety of its citizens and said the Vatican, through diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians, had urged decisive action to end the suicide bombings.
While some Vatican officials have said the United States is not doing enough to pressure Israel to limit the scope of its military operation, Nicholson said the discussion "did not point fingers."
The Vatican "is dispensing fault to both sides. There is a palpable concern at the continuing escalation of violence and for the religious places."
Nicholson said Tauran continued to seek U.S. support for sending international monitors or peacekeepers into the region.
"The difficulty is in inserting any third party when the sides are face to face, shooting at each other," he said. "Right now it would make no sense."
Tal also said Tauran raised the issue despite the fact the Vatican "was not able to give us practical hints" for how an international team would work.
The main part of the discussion, he said, "was to convey a message which basically says the Holy See sees the motives of our military campaign, but is concerned by the intensity of the action."
Tal said the archbishop also promised the Vatican would continue trying to convince the Palestinians to stop terrorist attacks.