Today in Catholic History – End of the Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

On 10 May 2002 the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem by the Israel Defense Forces came to an end. The siege had lasted since 2 April 2002 – for 39 days.
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The IDF raid into Bethlehem began as an attempt to arrest wanted Palestinian militants but the militants were able to evade the Israeli forces by fleeing into the Church of the Nativity. Altogether the number of those who sought refuge in the church included members of Fatah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Security Forces and some monks and other Palestinians totaling about 220.

The IDF surrounded the Church with tanks and sniping positions. The Israeli government condemned the Palestinian occupation and accused the militants of firing on the IDF from inside the church. Michel Sabbah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the region, said the gunmen had been given sanctuary, and that “the basilica is a place of refuge for everybody, even fighters, as long as they lay down their arms. We have an obligation to give refuge to Palestinians and Israelis alike”.

On the 7th of April, the Vatican warned Israel to respect the religious site and the Pope issued calls for prayers for peace. On 16 April there was a severe firefight between Palestinians and the IDF near the Church. On 20 April the Greek Orthodox called for a “solidarity day” for the people in the Church of the Nativity and the church itself.

The militants eventually turned themselves over to the IDF after being promised that they would be exiled to Europe or to the Gaza Strip. 8 militants were killed during the siege. One Armenian monk was severely wounded. The IDF reported finding 40 explosive devices left in the church by the militants.

On the Siege of the Church of the Nativity
Timeline

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