- BETHLEHEM, West Bank - The
Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Church of the Nativity and later deported
by Israel seized church stockpiles of food and "ate like greedy monsters"
until the food ran out, while more than 150 civilians went hungry.
- They also guzzled beer, wine and Johnnie Walker scotch
that they found in priests' quarters, undeterred by the Islamic ban on
- The indulgence lasted for about two weeks into the 39-day
siege, when the food and drink ran out, according to an account by four
Greek Orthodox priests who were trapped inside for the entire ordeal that
- About 30 priests, monks and nuns, and more than 150
Palestinian civilians, who ran inside on April 2 to escape a gunbattle
between Israelis and Palestinians, remained inside the church with the
armed militants for more than five weeks.
- A church helper, who gave his name as Milad, said the
quantity of food consumed by the gunmen in the first 15 days should have
lasted for six months.
- As they feasted and boozed, Palestinian civilians subsisted
on a meager diet, with barely enough for a single meal a day.
- Conditions improved somewhat for the civilian refuge
seekers when the governor of Bethlehem intervened and partially succeeded
in reallocating food supplies, priests and others witnesses said.
- Angry Orthodox priests yesterday showed two reporters
about 20 empty bottles of whiskey, champagne, vodka, cognac and French
wine on a kitchen shelf and on the floor of two rooms.
- "They should be ashamed of themselves. They acted
like animals, like greedy monsters. Come, I will show you more,"
said one priest, who declined to give his name.
- He gestured toward empty bottles of Israeli-brewed Maccabi
beer and hundreds of cigarette butts strewn on the floor.
- The priest then took the reporters to see computers taken
apart and a television set dismantled for use as a hiding place for weapons.
- "You can see what repayment we got for 'hosting'
these so-called guests," said Archbishop Ironius, another cleric,
as he showed reporters the main reception hall of the Greek Orthodox
- "All the media concentrated on the Franciscan [Catholic]
quarter, where little damage was done," the archbishop said. "Why?
The Franciscans actually let the gunmen in, then guided the gunmen to
- Archbishop Ironius showed onlookers where the militants
had broken in to the monks' quarters by smashing locked doors while, he
said, the monks were praying downstairs.
- "The Franciscans then blocked their own rooms'
doors with iron bars," Archbishop Ironius said.
- The 39-day siege ended Friday under a deal in which
13 Palestinian fighters were sent to exile in Europe and another 26 were
sent to Gaza, where they were received as heroes.
- While in the church, the top Palestinian gunmen slept
on comfortable beds in the elegant apartment of Father Parathaious, while
others rested on mattresses there and elsewhere under high-quality woolen
- The civilians slept on cold tile floors in the main
- "It's a shame, the mess they made and the way they
kept the food. I'm not proud of what they did, even though as a Palestinian
I sympathize with their cause of a liberated homeland," said Milad,
- The gunmen belong to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, part
of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization.
- Before Mr. Arafat visited the church yesterday, Palestinian
security officials ordered a thorough removal of all debris and a total
- But prior to Mr. Arafat's arrival, the reporters were
shown the room belonging to Father Vasareillon, where a key Al Aqsa leader,
Nabil Abayat, was fatally shot.
- While inviting the reporters inside, the priests refused
to allow three young members of Mr. Abayat's extended family into the
room, fearing they would insist it became a Muslim shrine to their fallen
- The scene in the room was grim. Seven gunmen had sheltered
there, said another young church helper, and Mr. Abayat had died when
a bullet ricocheted off a radiator.
- Pools of his blood had stained the bed on which he had
- Priests pointed to numerous bullet holes that appeared
to have been fired from inside the room.
- Wine bottles and a Johnny Walker Red Label whisky bottle
lay empty on a bedside table with cooked rice splattered on the floor.
- Another top gunman from the militant Abayat clan was
fatally shot 10 days ago close to a well that the Palestinians had used
to hide their weapons.
- Another four gunmen died during the exchanges of fire
and sniping, as well as a mentally retarded bell ringer who, the Israelis
say, ran toward soldiers, ignoring orders to stop.
- Several Israeli soldiers were seriously wounded in the
exchanges of gunfire during the five-week siege.
- The Orthodox priests and a number of civilians have said
the gunmen created a regime of fear.
- "Their word was law," said one civilian, "and
they told us civilians who left the church would either be shot by the
Israelis or dealt with later by the gunmen's comrades."
- Even in the Roman Catholic areas of the complex there
was evidence of disregard for religious norms.
- Catholic priests said that some Bibles were torn up
for toilet paper, and many valuable sacramental objects were removed.
- "Palestinians took candelabra, icons and anything
that looked like gold," said a Franciscan, the Rev. Nicholas Marquez
- "We were told later that they gave them back."
- The gunmen and civilians who emerged on Friday went
through metal detectors, revealing no stolen objects.