Bethlehem: siege enters fifth week

 There was no change last night as the siege in Bethlehem entered its fifth week. On Saturday, Fr Raed Abusahlia, from the Latin Patriarchate, had expressed hope that the people trapped in the Church of the Nativity would be freed in time for the Orthodox Easter Sunday. Instead the day was marked by more violence as a Palestinian woman and two children were killed by Israeli soldiers near Jenin. An Israeli military source said troops opened fire after a bomb was detonated near an armoured vehicle. The Israelis apologised for the incident and regretted the loss of life. On Sunday, the Papal envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who is taking part in negotiations for the release of those trapped in Bethlehem, celebrated a Mass for Peace at the Cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Peace activists who managed to slip through the Israeli security cordon around the Church of the Nativity, have said conditions inside the compound are desperate. Alistair Hillman, 30, from Porthcawl in Wales told BBC Wales, there were around 180 people inside the church, 150 of whom were Palestinian. Most of them are unarmed civilians and he said he thought none were militant. Many were very weak, living on a diet of pasta stew and lemon leaves. He said: "We have a couple of people who are injured and need more treatment than we can give." Alistair said the Orthodox section of the church has suffered heavy damage in the crossfire, with windows blown out. The ancient frescoes were ridden with bullet holes, he added. Alistair said the mood inside the building was still "hopeful." For a map of the Church of the Nativity complex visit the BBC website at:

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