Monk Shot in Nativity Church

An Armenian Orthodox monk was shot and seriously wounded Wednesday at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity compound. The Israeli army and Palestinians each blamed the other for the shooting.

The monk, Armen Sinanian, 22, was undergoing surgery at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, where spokeswoman Yael Bossem-Levy said he was in serious condition.

Bishop Arrs Shirvanian, of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, said the monk was shot in the back, just below his right shoulder, as he stood in front of a window in his room inside the church compound. The bishop said the shot apparently came through the window.

A Palestinian policeman, one of more than 200 armed Palestinians who remained holed up in the basilica, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born, said by telephone that Israeli troops shot a monk after breaking open a door. It was not immediately clear whether the door led into the compound or into the Church of the Nativity itself.

The policeman, who refused to give his name, said the monk's blood still stained the church's stone floor near the spot where he had been hanging clothes to dry.

Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli army spokesman, said shots were fired at troops as they made a delivery of food intended for the 60 priests and nuns inside the church compound. He said Palestinians opened fire, hitting the monk. Israeli soldiers, he said, did not return fire.

Israeli forces treated the monk and took him to Hadassah Hospital, Dallal said.

Israeli troops have surrounded the church, where Palestinian gunmen have been holed up for more than a week. An Israeli tank remained outside the compound and a white balloon with surveillance cameras floated above, anchored to Manger Square by ropes. An army tent was set up next to St. Catherine's Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav, in a letter dated Tuesday and released Wednesday in Rome by his country's embassy to the Holy See, said Israeli forces are under orders not to fire on churches. They intend "to extricate these Palestinian terrorists unharmed from the Church" but will "continue to refrain from taking actions that may harm the Church or its clergy."