ISRAELI troops pushed farther into the West Bank yesterday as the Vatican summoned the Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See to accuse his country of imposing “unjust conditions and humiliations” upon the Palestinians.
The Vatican also denounced suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism by Palestinian extremists against Israeli civilians, reflecting the Pope’s growing alarm over the threat to Jerusalem’s Holy Sites posed by the fighting. It said that the Pope believed that reprisals and revenge attacks did nothing but feed the sense of frustration and hatred in “this dramatic situation”. The burden of the Vatican’s remarks was, however, seen by diplomats as anti-Israeli, with the statement calling on Israel to use proportionate force in acts of legitimate self-defence. It said Israel should respect United Nations resolutions, a reference to Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian-ruled areas.
L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, accused Israel of desecrating the birthplace of Jesus, as Israeli tanks encircled Manger Square in Bethlehem.
In Nablus more than 100 Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles poured into the Palestinian-ruled city from three directions, witnesses and Palestinian security sources said. The Israelis, backed by at least one helicopter, met resistance from Palestinians and heavy shooting broke out near the Balata refugee camp.
The Palestinian Authority called on Palestinians to mobilise their resources to wage a prolonged struggle against Israel’s invasion of Palestinian-ruled areas in the West Bank.It also accused the United States of backing Israel’s “criminal aggression” and urged it to rein in the Jewish state.
A Palestinian woman was killed in a blast that shook Nablus last night soon after the tanks moved into the city, Palestinian security sources said.Earlier, troops tightened their hold on the towns of Jenin and Salfit, while enforcing strict curfews that have turned Ramallah into a ghost town.
Palestinian medical sources said that a 13-year-old child was among six people killed by Israeli forces in a Jenin refugee camp where Israeli soldiers moved in with tank and helicopter support. Others reported killed included a 30-year-old woman doctor and the senior preventive security officer, Ziad al-Amer. The Israelis said he was head of the local al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militia, which has claimed suicide bombings.
More than 100 Palestinian gunmen took refuge in the besieged Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with a handful of Italian journalists trapped by the fighting. Fides, the Vatican news agency, said that 40 Franciscan friars and nuns and 30 Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks were also trapped.
Earlier, the Foreign Office said its consulate-general had sent in vehicles to Bethlehem to remove seven British citizens after talks with the army.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.