At 3.00 am of today 8th April 2002, the Israeli army opened fire on the buildings of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In an adjacent building to the Basilica a fire broke out, most probably caused by the explosion of a grenade. A Palestinian who tried to put off the fire was killed by the israeli soldiers.
The Franciscan friars, who were not hurt, when verifying the situation, discovered, in the Nativity courtyard, military material belonging to the Israeli Special Forces.
This would confirm the attempt to present the siege of the Nativity as a "hostage rescue" operation.
The Custody of the Holy Land, confirming the condemnation of the abominable and unheard of barbarism of the attack to a sacred site, asks for the mobilization of the world opinion.
The attack on the Nativity complex carried out by the Special Squad of the Israeli army has become clearer. It all started at 3.00 am and went on until 4.15 am. The soldiers came down from the roof of the building under cover of firing tanks and the launch of incendiary grenades. One of these grenades hit the office of the parish priest causing a fire. A palestinian who was in the building tried to put off the fire but was shot dead by the Israeli army. The special squad fired also on the Nativity church destroying window panes and also part of the ancient mosaic in the area of the Armenians. This mosaic is believed to have been the "safety" passport for the Church of the Nativity during the various invasions which Bethlehem had to suffer during the centuries. The palestinian fire fighters were allowed to come near the burning building only after long hours of waiting for the "necessary" permits from the Israeli army.
This morning the Latin, Greek and Armenian Patriarchs of Jerusalem together with the Custos of the Holy Land tried again to gain access to Bethlehem but were stopped at the Israeli checkpoint outside Bethlehem. Here the Church leaders prayed together in an ecumenical spirit for the peace of this martyred land. Among those present were the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Giovanni Battistelli ofm.