Bethlehem: few armed men shelter in besieged church

 International peace campaigners in Israel's West Bank claim that there are only a handful of armed men seeking refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. According to sources in the holy town, the majority of the estimated 200 people inside the church, along with 40 Franciscan monks, are civilians and only very few are armed resistance fighters from the local area. "None of these men are terrorists, they are men who lifted up guns to try and defend their families. They are not bombers. And they are not holding people for ransom," said one woman who lives a short distance from the church. Others have claimed that the people inside the church are made up of Muslim, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Christian backgrounds and that most fled there when a nearby mosque was blown up at the start of the Israeli invasion. Unconfirmed reports over the weekend suggested that the Israeli army, who claim that there are known terrorists inside the building, had made another attempt to enter church grounds and soldiers were accused of trying to start a fire in the church library. "We have been told that the fire was set by the army and that two people were killed as a result of that fire. One was killed trying to put the fire out and one was thought to have been shot by Palestinian gunmen who realised what was happening," said Liz Yates. "We also understand that from today (Monday) all electricity to the building has been cut off." The Church of the Nativity has been under constant siege since the beginning of Israel's invasion of Palestinian controlled areas on the West Bank over a week ago.

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