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Saturday, 13 April, 2002, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Palestinian 'shot dead' in Bethlehem
Smoke rises from Manger Square
Soldiers surrounded the church 12 days ago
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By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Bethlehem
line

Palestinians trapped inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem say a 26-year-old civilian has been shot dead by Israeli troops besieging the site.

They say Hassan Mesman was shot in the neck by Israeli snipers positioned in a hotel on Manger Square.


They say they tried to treat him by candlelight, but he quickly bled to death

Israeli soldiers have been surrounding the church compound for the past 12 days after a group of more than 200 Palestinians took refuge there, among them a number of militants.

The Palestinians say they tried to treat Mesman by candlelight because they have no electricity, but he quickly bled to death.

Israeli military sources have acknowledged they may have shot into the church compound but insist they did not fire directly at the church.

Unburied corpse

Whatever the exact truth, Mesman is the third person to be shot inside the compound since the stand-off began last week.

On Thursday an Armenian cleric was hit in the back with a single bullet.

A speaker emitting a high-pitched sound is hung close to the church
A priest spoke of a night of "psycho-terror"
The Israeli army said that he had looked suspicious and had been mistaken for a gunman.

Israeli soldiers evacuated the Armenian to hospital but the body of a Palestinian policeman killed on Monday remains inside the church compound.

It is being kept in a grotto as church officials appeal to be allowed to remove it so that the man can be buried.

'Psycho-terror'

The Israeli army has begun blasting the church with a variety of ear-splitting noises after loudspeaker calls on those inside to surrender failed to persuade them to give themselves up.

It is all part of what a priest inside has called "psycho terror".

The Israeli army has made no official comment but a reserve captain in Bethlehem acknowledged the army was using some unorthodox methods:

"We try applying pressure with certain means, if it means letting off bombs near the area, if it means shooting the flags above the church... I can't say everything that we do," he told the BBC.

'Slow death'

The soldier said Israel could have ended the stand-off in half an hour if it had used force, but that it had opted to show sensitivity to holy sites and the Christian world.

But the Christian world is alarmed by what is happening.

Local Christian leaders who met US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saturday told him that those who had taken refuge in the Church of the Nativity must be given water, food and electricity.

On Friday the Palestinians trapped inside urged the Pope and the UN to intervene to save them from what they have called a "slow death".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Hawley reports from Bethlehem
"The centre of Bethlehem has become a battlefield"
See also:

13 Apr 02 | Middle East
US approves Arafat-Powell meeting
13 Apr 02 | Middle East
Pleas for mercy in Bethlehem siege
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Vatican outrage over church siege
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem siege sparks church fury
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Bethlehem's woes
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