an orphanage, in the Bethlehem area early Tuesday, August 28, the Presbyterian News Service (PNS) reported, quoting a mission worker.
Douglas Dicks, a mission co-worker of the Douglas Dicks USA told PNS that the raid began shortly after midnight when "Israeli military tanks heavily shelled the Bethlehem area, Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour."
"At 1:30 a.m. local time the army entered our church premises – the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Reformation as well as the orphanage Evangelical Lutheran Home, which is home to 50 children, and the Abraham’s Herberge inter-religious center and guesthouse," Dicks reported.
He said that "soldiers took positions on the roof of one of the church buildings, with tanks stationed immediately outside the entrance to the church premises," located in the town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem.
Dicks stressed that the orphanage’s children, youngsters between four and 18 years of age, are kept isolated in the Home together with some educators living there.
"As curfew has been imposed on the town, neither the pastor nor the staff of the Home can reach the premises," Dicks said in an e-mail message distributed by PNS. "We are trying to find ways to bring food and other necessities to the isolated children."
Israeli Government spokesman Avi Pazner told reporters the army had entered Beit Jala to "clean it up" and stop the firing by Palestinian extremists. He said Israeli troops would stay in Beit Jala "until their mission was accomplished" but that they did not intend to occupy the Palestinian territory permanently.
Dore Gold, an adviser of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, described Beit Jala as a "snipers’ nest" from which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Tanzin gunmen were firing "into Israel’s capital Jerusalem over the last 10 months." However PNS quoted the Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem, Munib A. Younan, as saying that the army had no right to occupy church premises in the troubled town.
"We want to make clear that no shooting has taken place, neither yesterday nor in the past, from our church buildings in Beit Jala," said Bishop Younan. "We are now receiving reports that the Israeli army is shooting from the position on top of our buildings, injuring and killing people in the town, which of course endangers the lives of our children (in the orphanage)", he added.
One Palestinian policeman was killed as Israeli tanks rolled into Beit Jala, located in a Palestinian-controlled area of the West Bank south of Jerusalem, the Cable News Network reported. Bishop Younan condemned the "Israeli occupation" of the buildings, saying that the army should "immediately withdraw" from the church premises and Beit Jala.
Israel Radio quoted Palestinian Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo as saying the Israeli presence in Beit Jala could lead to "a regional war." The raid came as in the town of Ramallah, several thousand of Palestinians, many of them armed, attended the burial of Mustafa Zabri, the leader of the left wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who was killed when at least two Israeli missiles hit his home on Monday.
The estimated 5000 Palestinians reportedly shouted for revenge against Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon was expected to call a meeting of his Security Cabinet to discuss when Israel would withdraw from Beit Jala.