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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Bethlehem Christians give thanks
Priests rests from mopping the floor
The clear-up finished in time for the services
Christians have been taking part in special services at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the first since the siege of Palestinian gunmen by Israeli troops there ended two days ago.

Chanting Greek Orthodox priests led their spiritual leader, Jerusalem Patriarch Irineos I, in a colourful procession to the church from the edge of Manger Square on Sunday morning.

Today is something special because everything ended peacefully

Father Barnabas
Greek Orthodox priest
Roman Catholics held their own service, which they have termed as one of praise, redemption and reconciliation.

Latin Patriarch of the Holy Monseigner Land Michel Sabbah said there could be no peace until the Israelis ended their occupation of the Palestinian territories.

"My message today is to the Israelis: you are pushing the Palestinians to the suicide. You are committing suicide against yourselves," he said.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant says there is genuine relief that the siege in Bethlehem, where more than 200 Palestinians were surrounded by Israeli troops in the Church of the Nativity, had been resolved peacefully.

Preparations for Sunday's services began just after dawn, after the keepers of the holy site cleared away all the waste resulting from the five-week stand-off.

Correspondents who entered the church after the siege found conditions there to be squalid, but there appeared to be no major damage.


The head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem, Father Speridon, told AFP news agency that its service was a reconsecration mass because the church, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, had been desecrated during the siege.

Denominations using the church

  • Roman Catholic
  • Greek Orthodox
  • Armenian

      Click here for more about the Church of the Nativity

  • But another priest told the BBC that the siege was a mere footnote in the church's history.

    "If we look in through history there have been worse things," Father Barnabas said, referring to the recent siege.

    "Today is something special because everything ended peacefully."

    Israel pulled out of Bethlehem on Friday after 13 Palestinian militants, who have been exiled from the West Bank under a deal to end the siege, arrived in Cyprus.

    The withdrawal in effect ended Israel's military offensive in the West Bank, which was launched on 29 March in response to a suicide bomb attack in which 28 Israelis died as they celebrated the Jewish Passover.

    The BBC's Richard Forrest
    "The biggest peace rally since Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted"
    See also:

    11 May 02 | Middle East
    Arab leaders denounce violence
    11 May 02 | Middle East
    Church emerges unharmed from siege
    10 May 02 | Middle East
    Eyewitness: Calm end to siege
    10 May 02 | Middle East
    No winners from siege deal
    11 May 02 | Middle East
    In pictures: Bethlehem clean-up
    10 May 02 | Middle East
    In pictures: End of Bethlehem siege
    09 May 02 | Middle East
    Timeline: Bethlehem siege
    09 May 02 | Middle East
    Bethlehem siege: Inside the negotiations
    10 May 02 | Middle East
    Gaza gives militants hero's welcome
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