8 APRIL 2002Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls
issued the following statement on the situation in Bethlehem and the Mideast:
"The Holy See is following with extreme apprehension the situation in Bethlehem and is seeking to verify the most recent events.
"The secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran,
and the apostolic nuncio in Israel, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, have had
contacts with the authorities in Israel to reiterate that the Holy See
considers respect for the 'status quo' of the Holy Places to be an absolute
priority. All the more so, since about 200 men - several armed - have been
staying inside the Basilica of the Nativity, thus constituting a precedent
without parallel in the centuries-old history of the Christian Holy Places.
"In addition it must be remembered that the Fundamental Accord of 1993
between the Holy See and the State of Israel, as well as the Basic Accord
of 2000 with the Palestinian Authority, include articles that ratify
respect of the 'status quo' of the Holy Places.
"If the information coming from Bethlehem in these last hours should be
confirmed, it would be a question of a development that would aggravate an
already dramatic situation."