Monk shot in besieged Basilica of the Nativity

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The Independent Online

A monk inside the besieged Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was shot in the back and badly wounded yesterday as more blood was shed at the scene of Christ's birth.

The shooting intensified anger among Christian leaders over the violence at the ancient basilica, which Israel's armed forces have encircled with snipers, ground troops and tanks, ignoring a blizzard of appeals from around the world to withdraw.

The wounded man, Armin Sinanian, 22, an Armenian Orthodox cleric, underwent surgery at a hospital in west Jerusalem. He was hit by a bullet that went through the window of his room. A hospital spokesman described his condition as serious.

A Palestinian policeman in the church said the monk was shot by Israeli troops; the Israeli army said it would investigate. An Israeli spokesman said: "When bullets are flying, anything can happen."

The siege has entered its second week, with no sign that the 250 people inside the church are prepared to leave, despite food shortages and several bloody incidents. Last week Israeli forces shot dead a bellringer as he walked to the church. He was deaf and appeared not to hear their warnings. On Monday, a Palestinian policeman was shot by an Israeli sniper. Colleagues said he was putting out a fire, started by an Israeli smoke grenade, in the adjoining St Catherine's Church.

Those inside the church have resisted intense psychological pressure from the Israeli army to winkle them out, including loudspeaker announcements at night, sound and smoke grenades, and the shining of laser lights.

The Israeli army named 10 wanted men inside the church yesterday. Seven are from Fatah and three from the Islamic nationalist Hamas movement. They include the regional head of Palestinian military intelligence, Abdullah Tirawi. Others inside the church are the governor of Bethlehem, four nuns, more than 50 Franciscan, Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks, civilians, and various armed members of the Palestinian security forces.

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