Sick friars leave siege church

 Two elderly Franciscans in need of medical attention were evacuated yesterday from the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Yesterday the missionary news service reported that negotiations had also taken place to give permission for four Franciscan nuns to leave the church. But the Franciscan General Curia said today that the four nuns wished to continue staying in the church out of faithfulness to their vocation of care and service to the holy places. Today Archbishop Aristarchos, Secretary General of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem said two rooms in the complex adjoining the church were set on fire. He said everything inside had been destroyed but the four monks were unharmed The Mayor of Bethlehem, Hanna Nasser, told the missionary news service he was afraid the building could be destroyed. He said: "A week ago a fire in the parish hall of the Franciscans, last night flames in a room of the dormitory of the Greek-Orthodox. What next? Do we have to wait until the cave where Jesus was born collapses?". The Mayor has been appointed by Yasser Arafat, President of the National Palestinian Authority, to negotiate with Israeli authorities to end the siege. He said: "Yesterday we waited all day for the top Israeli officials that command the troops deployed in Bethlehem. But the meeting never took place. Also US State Secretary Colin Powell, who held talks with the representatives of the 13 Christian Churches present in the Holy Land, received a specific request but gave no response". Nasser said: "If by this evening a solution is not found to end the siege of the Nativity Church, I will write a letter to the Pope to invite him to the Holy Land and see current condition of the mother of all churches!".

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