Churchmen beg Bush to restrain Israel

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The Independent Online

The heads of all the Christian churches in Jerusalem appealed to President George Bush yesterday to halt Israel's latest military incursion into the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

About 100 priests and Franciscan brothers marched from Jerusalem's walled Old City to the official residence of Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, demanding an end to the Israeli military offensive.

Braving heavy rain, some clergymen waved olive branches, and others carried posters with a message in French, Italian and Hebrew reading: "We are for peace". The priests and monks made a prayer stop at the American consulate in Jerusalem.

Church officials said a report stating that a 65-year-old priest had been killed in an exchange of fire near a convent in downtown Bethlehem was incorrect, adding that the priest was well.

In their appeal to the American President, church leaders in Jerusalem asked him to "stop immediately the inhuman tragedy that is taking place in this Holy Land".

They said many Bethlehem residents were deprived of basic necessities, and that several religious institutions had been occupied by troops and dam-aged. Church leaders wrote to Mr Bush: "We call upon your Christian conscience, because we know you are the only one who can stop this tragedy immediately. We in return will play our part in mediating for the peace and security of all the people of this land, both Israeli and Palestinian."

A similar appeal was made to the European Union, Tony Blair and religious leaders around the world.

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