- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

From combined dispatches
VATICAN CITY The Vatican called yesterday for a third party to be brought in to end the Israeli army's 12-day siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of Christianity's holiest sites.
In Jerusalem, a group of Christian leaders, at a meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, proposed a plan to end the standoff.
Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Jean Louis Tauran told Vatican radio that "someone, a friend who can say things simply, must head there to separate the two sides.
"This third force would silence the guns, create a climate of confidence and bring the two parties back to the negotiating table."
Archbishop Tauran refused to explain who the third party would be, but Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Archbishop Tauran was referring to "international observers."
About 200 armed Palestinian fighters took refuge April 1 alongside about 30 Fransiscans inside the church, built on the site where Christian tradition says Jesus was born, after Israeli troops moved into the Palestinian self-rule town.
Archbishop Tauran's comments came as leaders of 13 Christian denominations in Jerusalem submitted a proposal to Mr. Powell for settling the standoff, even as a Palestinian was fatally shot in an adjoining hostel.
Palestinians at the site said Israeli soldiers briefly entered the hostel in the church compound and fired several shots, hitting a Palestinian civilian in the neck.
The army said soldiers did not shoot at the church. The army did not comment further. Israel radio said the Palestinian was armed and was aiming when he was shot.
Armed Palestinians in the church appealed to Mr. Powell, seeking his intervention. They also sought help from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II.
In the meeting with Mr. Powell, the clergy proposed that Israeli troops leave the West Bank town for three days, and allow the armed Palestinians to put down their weapons and go home.
Mr. Powell has not commented on the proposal, which isn't likely to be accepted by Israel.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Yaffa Ben-Ari refused to comment on it. She reiterated Israel's position that it is trying "to negotiate for the surrender of the terrorists peacefully."
In the Vatican, Archbishop Tauran said, "The diplomacy of the Holy See, in a discreet, confidential manner, is seeking to help the two parties speak in a way that will resolve this crisis."
He proposed the creation of a commission with Israeli and Palestinian representatives, saying: "It is not up to us to propose solutions."
Archbishop Tauran also denounced the situation as a "violation of the status of the basilica by Palestinians who sought refuge with their arms."
"The pope has received solemn assurances from the Israeli president that the basilica will not be a target for shooting, and for the moment, that's the way it is."

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