Christians in the West Bank are caught up in the daily bloodshed between Palestinian gunmen and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Israel is responding to terrorist attacks on civilians that have killed at least 89 people since January. More than 140 Palestinians in the region have died during the military crackdown, along with 28 Israeli soldiers.
At Bethlehem's historic Church of the Nativity, IDF tanks and soldiers surround the church complex, where 200 armed militants have taken refuge with 60 priests, monks, and nuns. Christian Zionist Malcolm Hedding of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem denounced the presence of Palestinian fighters inside the church: "It is a premeditated offense by militant outlaws who know it is a place central to our faith and thus would provide them unquestioned refuge."
The church standoff began April 3. On April 10 an Israeli soldier shot and seriously wounded an Armenian monk, Armin Sinanian, 22. Israeli forces treated him at the scene and took him to a hospital. Much of the infrastructure of the city of 150,000 has been destroyed, with homes torn apart and bloody corpses lying in the streets. The IDF allowed few ambulances to move around Bethlehem.
Palestinian Christian leaders who agreed to be interviewed on the record faulted Israel for punishing innocent civilians for the deadly assaults. "We continue to regret the suicide attacks, but these are done by individuals who are a small minority and are not an act of [the] Palestinian Authority or Yasser Arafat," Bishara Awad, president of Bethlehem Bible College (BBC), told Christianity Today. "Why are all the Palestinians being punished?"
Some of the 20,000 IDF troops and reservists in the operation have detained 4,200 Palestinians, including ...1
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