Smoke billows of the left side of the compound of the Church of the Nativity in the Old City of Bethlehem, April 8, 2002. Israeli troops and tanks in a five-day standoff with Palestinians holed up in the church opened fire at the building, causing a
BETHLEHEM - Heavy gunfire broke out early Monday around Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity where some 200 Palestinian fighters have taken refuge from Israeli troops, Palestinian lawyer Tony Salman said from inside the church.
The bells of the basilica rang out as the shooting erupted at around 5:00 a.m (0200 GMT), according to journalists at a nearby hotel. Since Tuesday, Israeli forces have been attempting to get the Palestinian fighters, armed with Kalishnikov rifles.
Some 200 Palestinian fighters have taken refuge in the Church of the Nativity, built on the spot where Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born, along with around 30 Franciscan priests and a handful of civilians.
The army accuses the fighters of holding the priests hostage inside the vast church and its adjoining convents, a charge denied by the clerics.