Israel Assures Pope: No Assault on Bethlehem Shrine

VATICAN, Apr 10, 02 ( - Pope John Paul II has received fresh Israeli assurances that there will be no military assault on the Church of the Nativity. Still, at his regular public audience on Wednesday, the Pontiff asked for prayers for peace in the Holy Land.

The Holy Father told about 17,000 people in St. Peter's Square that they should join him in prayers. "Ask the Blessed Virgin to intercede, to assist with the different efforts undertaken by all parties to overcome the tragic situation into which these people, so badly tested, have now fallen," he said.

The Pope had received a personal letter from Israel's President Moshe Katsav, guaranteeing the security of the holy places. The Israeli leader said: "All members of the Israeli armed forces have received orders that they should not shoot into, or violate the sanctity of, ecclesial territories." Katsav charged that Palestinian gunmen had "desecrated the sanctity of churches under their jurisdiction several times," and that churches were being used as "bases of operation" by Palestinian militants.

Regarding the Church of the Nativity, the Israeli president told the Pope that he could "scrupulously assure you that the basilica is not about to be a center of hostilities." He said that although military operations would continue in the area, "the basilica will remain untouched by all Israeli forces." Israeli forces, he said, would attempt to remove the Palestinians inside the church without violence.

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10. april 2002