Israeli troops fired tear gas grenades yesterday, breaking up an open-air Mass about to begin at Beit Sahour, a Christian town near the Shepherds Fields in Bethlehem.
About 100 people, including elderly people and children, accompanied by some international supporters, had gathered on open land at the evacuated Israeli military base of Ush Ghrab east of the city for the service. Some people were holding banners demanding the halt of the recently renewed Israeli construction at the site, and called for the end of settlement activity around their homes. As the service began, seven military jeeps arrived and told the crowd to disperse, before they began throwing teargas grenades.
As teargas filled the air, the priest appealed to the solders to stop and led the congregation in prayers for peace.
Beit Sahour is one of the few remain Christian towns in the West Bank. Israel had built a military base at Ush Ghrab, but this was abandoned in April 2006. The Palestinians had transformed part of the site into a public park and were planning to build a children's hospital there when, in 2008, Israeli settlers announced plans to erect a settlement there called Shdema. Last week, the Israeli army came back started to bulldoze land and put in military installations. They have now announced the area as a closed military zone.
No injuries were reported. The priest and his congregation have appealed for Churches overseas to support them by writing to their their MPs and the Israeli government.
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