Monk Was Apparently Shot by Israelis

An Armenian monk seriously wounded in the besieged Church of the Nativity compound was apparently shot by an Israeli soldier who mistook him for a gunman, a senior Israeli military official said Thursday.

The army initially said the monk was shot by one of the more than 200 armed Palestinians holed up in the church, one of Christianity's holiest shrines, as troops were delivering supplies to clergymen in the compound.

However, preliminary results of an army investigation into Wednesday's shooting indicated that the monk was shot by an Israeli soldier who mistook him for a Palestinian gunman, said a senior military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The army spokesman's office had no immediate comment.

A spokeswoman for Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital said the Armenian Orthodox clergyman, 22-year-old Armen Sinanian, was in stable condition in the hospital's intensive care unit Thursday after undergoing surgery the day before.

Meanwhile, negotiations appeared to be making no progress toward ending the standoff at the ancient basilica, built over the site where tradition says Jesus was born. Israeli forces have been surrounding the gunmen since April 2, with several dozen clergymen also inside the compound.

On Thursday, troops could be seen circling the church from time to time in armored personnel carriers while a ring of tanks controlled access from all sides. Soldiers set up a tent at the entrance to the adjoining Casa Nova Franciscan monastery, which the Israelis do not consider part of the church compound, although the Franciscans do.

Israel says that the approximately 40 nuns and friars inside the compound are held hostage by the gunmen, a claim denied by some church leaders. Israel says it will not end the siege until the gunmen have surrendered.

Franciscan Father David Jaeger, spokesman for the Custodians of the Holy Sites, said that the Israelis have cut off electricity and water to the part of the church controlled by his order.

"The situation is dire," he said. "We have been unable to persuade the Israeli government to restore water."

"There's no reason why the Franciscans should be made the victims of a conflict to which they are not a party," Jaeger said. "We are not on one side or the other — we are monks, sisters, friars."

Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, an Israeli army spokesman, said Israeli and Palestinian officials were to have met late Wednesday to discuss conditions in the church compound, but that the Palestinians canceled the meeting.

A possible compromise, described by Palestinian sources as a joint U.S.-Vatican proposal, appeared to be going nowhere Thursday. Under the plan, the gunmen would be escorted by diplomats to the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.

An Israeli official said Thursday that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had rejected the plan and negotiations between the sides had broken down, with no immediate prospect of renewal.

Palestinian legislator Salah Taameri said Arafat had not dismissed the idea out of hand and had formed a team to negotiate with the Israelis.

Taameri, a member of the negotiating team, said one of the stumbling blocks was that the Israelis had so far not guaranteed immunity for all the gunmen.