Jerusalem, 9 April 2002

Pres. Katsav sends message to Pope John Paul II – Apr 9, 2002
(Communicated by the President’s Spokeswoman)

President Moshe Katsav today (Tuesday), April 9, 2002, sent the following message to Pope John Paul II:

"I am aware of your personal concern regarding recent events in the Holy Land.

It was our fervent hope that the Palestinians would fulfill their signed commitments to prevent terrorism against our country and people. However, the Government of Israel has, regrettably, been left with no alternative but to defend itself against a massive wave of violent terror, culminating with a bloody attack on Passover Eve, directed by the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority and designed to destroy the State of Israel.

In this campaign our forces are taking every reasonable precaution to prevent any harm to civilians and institutions. On the other hand, Palestinian terrorists regularly and reprehensively exploit innocent civilians as cover for their activities. The unacceptable breaking in of some 200 Palestinian armed terrorists into the Church of the Nativity is of common concern to you and to us.

The State of Israel has the highest esteem for all religious communities within its borders. Therefore, in the current context, all members of the Israel Defense Forces have been ordered not to fire upon or violate the sanctity of church property. For their part, the Palestinians have repeatedly desecrated the holiness of churches within their jurisdiction, abusing Holy Places as a base of operations.

In the particular instance of the Church of the Nativity, the Government of Israel scrupulously ensures that the Church does not become a focus of hostilities. While operations are being conducted in its vicinity, the Church has remained unaffected by the IDF, despite the confirmed presence of armed Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Tanzim terrorists inside the sanctuary.

Our objective remains to extricate these armed terrorists, unharmed, from the Church and to this end, our forces continue to refrain from taking actions that may harm the Church or its clergy. Since giving safe conduct to the extremely dangerous terrorists presently in the Church would constitute a grave danger to public safety, we have no choice but to maintain our presence in the immediate area. We anticipate our redeployment once the terrorists hand themselves over.

However, under the circumstances, I regret that with all the respect and consideration we have for the Christian Holy Places, we have no alternative but to prevent armed Palestinian terrorists, who have murdered innocent Jews and have taken refuge in a holy Christian sanctuary, from escaping and continuing their acts of bloodshed."