Jerusalem, April 11, 2002

Terrorist Penetration and Armed Combat in Holy Places – Legal Perspectives
(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Legal Advisor)

1. In recent days, Palestinian armed combatants and terrorists have been hiding out in churches and other holy places and their vicinity. Places of worship are offered special protection in accordance with international law. The penetration of armed terrorists into churches and other places of a religious character for the purpose of hiding out and/or carrying out acts of hostility, are a gross abuse of the immunity and the special protection granted to such places. Such acts are grave breaches of the First Additional Protocol (1977) to the Geneva Conventions, and constitute war crimes by any standard of international humanitarian law.

2. The presence of armed combatants and terrorists who do not distinguish themselves from the civilian population, and the deliberate perpetration of hostile acts from within places of worship constitute grave violations of the rights of the clergy residing in such buildings. These actions endanger the protected status of such buildings in which the armed terrorists hide out, and turn the places into a legitimate "military objective", for as long as the armed terrorists continue to abuse the immunity of these buildings. This conduct directly endangers the lives and security of religious personnel and civilians residing, working or worshipping in these areas. It constitutes a fundamental breach of the requirement that combatants distinguish themselves from civilians, pursuant to the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, in particular, and international law, in general.

3. Finally, the armed terrorists are holding religious officials in the Church as hostages, to shield themselves from military attacks. This conduct constitutes a war crime in accordance with international law, and is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols.