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Sunday, 5 May, 2002, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Welsh activist inside besieged church
Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem
The siege has been going on since 2 April
A peace activist from Porthcawl on the south Wales coast has been speaking of the harrowing conditions inside the besieged Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Alister Hillman, 30, was one of a group of international activists who last Thursday managed to break through the cordon of Israeli soldiers which have been surrounding the church compound in Manger Square for more than a month.

A lot of them are very weak and we have a couple of people who are injured and who need more treatment than we can give

Alister Hillman

He and the other campaigners took in rucksacks full of food and medical aid.

Speaking by mobile phone to BBC Wales on Sunday, Mr Hillman said there were around 180 people inside the church - around 150 of them Palestinians.

"The majority of people here are civilians. Its not the case that the church is full of 150 armed people."

  Click here for siege timeline

"A lot of them are very weak and we have a couple of people who are injured and who need more treatment than we can give," said Mr Hillman.

Alister Hillman
Alister Hillman: 'People need help'

Those inside the church were surviving on a diet of pasta stew and toasted lemon leaves taken from the trees around the church.

The othodox section of the church has suffered heavy damage in the crossfire, with windows blown out and the ancient frescos "ridden with bullet holes", he added.

Mr Hillman said some Palestinians inside the church were armed, but it was not true that they all were.

"As far as I can see they belong to the Palestinian security forces. I have not come across anyone I would consider militant."

Negotiatiors from both Israelis and Palestinians were seeking a deal to end the 33-day-old standoff on Sunday.

Mr Hillman said the mood inside the building was hopeful that an outcome would soon be reached.

He said his family back home in south Wales were concerned, but they understood why he had taken the action.

However, his mother Mary, 54, said: "Just like any mum, I want him home sitting next to me on the sofa."

"I don't want to have to watch my son on CNN."

Mary Hillman
Mary Hillman: Praying for son's safe return

A supporter of the International Solidarity Movement run from the West Bank, Mr Hillman has a natural sciences degree from Cambridge and is currently taking a year out from his studies for a doctorate.

"We just hope and pray that he's going to be all right," said Mrs Hillman.

"You think about bullets flying around and of course it's frightening.

"But we know he'll be as careful as he can be."

Alister Hillman
"The reason I went in was people inside needed help"
BBC Wales's Penny Roberts
"For three days now Alister Hillman has been inside the Church of the Nativity"
See also:

05 May 02 | Middle East
Hopes for end to Bethlehem siege
04 May 02 | Middle East
Arafat faces calls for reform
25 Apr 02 | Wales
View from Manger Square
25 Apr 02 | Middle East
Timeline: Bethlehem siege
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Church with a turbulent history
21 Apr 02 | Middle East
Palestinians flee Bethlehem church
03 May 02 | Middle East
Q&A: Middle East peace conference
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