Franciscans press Arafat for the Gaza solution

Rome (Fides) - Yesterday, Sunday April 21, the Generalate of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome invited Mr Nemer Hammad, Representative in Italy of the Palestinian Authorities, to a meeting to discuss the situation at the Nativity Shrine of Bethlehem of which the Franciscans are the centuries-old Keepers. The Friars told the PA representative that the Order is "extremely concerned" for the prolongation of "the intolerable situation in Bethlehem, at the Shrine of the Nativity, the church and surrounding buildings, the monastery with the Friars and nuns."

The Generalate asked the Palestinian Representative to pass on to Mr. Arafat this request: "Please take the necessary steps to ensure immediately the peaceful solution suggested by the Order at the outset of the crisis, twenty days ago".

The Generalate also quoted a recent open letter addressed to Mr. Arafat by two Italian Bishops and Italian towns twinned with Bethlehem. In the letter the Palestinian leader is asked "to remove any existing reserves and obstacles to an immediate start of negotiations, even if the former are just and understandable", because of the "serious conditions of the Franciscan Friars and nuns and the Greek and Armenian Orthodox monks, as well as many of your [Mr. Arafat] countrymen, barricaded inside the Holy Place, as well as the besieged Shrine itself." These conditions "do not allow a prolongation of the torment for reasons that are not substantial and not directly pertaining to the essence of the long awaited peaceful solution".

The Friars mentioned one solution in particular, which the mixed Israeli/Palestinian Bethlehem negotiation commission, if and when it meets at last, is called to consider and to accept. In a press statement the Friars explained the contents of this "peaceful solution", already known to both sides since the beginning of the crisis: the Palestinians occupants should be disarmed and transported under international guarantee from the Nativity Shrine in Bethlehem to the autonomous Palestinian Gaza Strip territory.

"In this way - the Generalate explains - the crisis would be peacefully solved: the lives of everyone involved would be saved, the Shrine and adjoining buildings evacuated of the intruders and the Church and monasteries restored to their original sacred purpose." The statement concludes: "It is now up to the parties in conflict to discuss and accept" a peaceful solution. What is more, "the existence of this proposal" annuls any sort of justification "for the incredible prolongation seen so far, on the part of both sides."

22. april 2002