Bethlehem: civilian shot dead at Church of Nativity

 A Palestinian civilian inside the Church of the Nativity compound in Bethlehem was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on Saturday. Hassan Mesman, 26, was shot in the neck by Israeli snipers positioned in a hotel on Manger Square. The Franciscans inside the compound said they tried to treat Mesman by candlelight, because they have no electricity, but he bled to death. Hassan is the third person to be shot inside the compound since the stand-off began last week. On Thursday an Armenian monk was hit in the back with a single bullet. The Israeli army said that he looked suspicious and had been mistaken for a gunman. The body of a Palestinian policeman killed on Monday, when he tried to put out a fire, remains inside the church. The Franciscans have appealed to be allowed to remove it so that the man can be buried. The Israeli army has begun blasting the church with a variety of ear-splitting noises, and loudspeaker calls on those inside to surrender. One priest said it was 'psycho terror.' The Israelis have made no official comment, but a reserve captain in Bethlehem told the BBC that the army was using some unorthodox methods. He said: "We try applying pressure with certain means, if it means letting off bombs near the area, if it means shooting the flags above the church... I can't say everything that we do." The soldier said Israel could have ended the stand-off in half an hour if it had used force, but that it had opted to show sensitivity to holy sites and the Christian world. At the weekend, spokesman Fr David Jaeger said the Franciscan friars and nuns at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem held a ceremony in which they agreed to continue to remain inside the besieged church. Fr David said the position was becoming "extremely dangerous" and urged both sides in the stand-off to accept a solution before it is too late, underscoring the risk that one of the world's most famous Christian sites could soon become the scene of a historic disaster. He accused Israel of refusing to allow deliveries of food and water, and said the last supplies of bottled water inside the church were exhausted. The Israeli soldiers have said that the priests, monks and nuns are free to leave, but the Franciscans, as traditional custodians of Christian sites in the Holy Land, say they have a duty to stay, to protect the sanctity of one of Christianity's most sacred shrines.

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