Church official: No Bethlehem deal in sight
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The standoff at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, built on the spot said to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, shows no signs of ending, an Anglican church official said Sunday.
"However hard one tries to think rationally about the situation, it's difficult to see a solution without very considerable compromises on one side or the other," said Canon Andrew White, one of several Christian representatives trying to negotiate an end to the stalemate.
"One of the situations we have in this present conflict is that both sides are not willing to make compromises."
An estimated 200 armed Palestinians, along with some 40 church workers, have been holed up inside the structure since taking shelter there during an Israeli military incursion on April 2.
White, the Middle East envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, said Christian negotiators efforts to end the standoff have been unsuccessful and that the Israeli army has largely taken over direct negotiations with Palestinians inside the church.
Israel gave the Palestinian gunmen the option of standing trial in Israel or accepting exile for life, an Israeli government spokesman said Sunday. But Palestinian officials quickly rejected the offer.
At least two people -- an Armenian monk and a Palestinian policeman -- have been shot and killed by Israeli snipers in the two-week standoff and four priests have left the church complex, Palestinian sources said.
"One of the reasons why people won't leave is that they're concerned about what would happen to the site if they left," White said, referring to possible damage to the church.
While White has backed away from the Israeli claim that church workers were being held hostage, he accused gunmen of taking advantage of the structure's sanctity.
"You can clearly understand from the point of view of those that look after this holy site that there has been an abuse of religious places of worship," he said.
Humanitarian groups have also expressed concern about the condition of those inside the church. White cited one report in which Israelis claimed water was taken into the church but Palestinians said they never received it.
Christians poured in millions of dollars in recent years to restore Bethlehem for millennium celebrations, and many church leaders fear how the current conflict could damage the historic city.
But White insisted his greater concern was for the region's future, saying the conflict may leave the children of Bethlehem and neighboring cities with "psychological scars."
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