April 12, 2002

BETHLEHEM, West Bank, April 12 (AFP) - The Palestinians trapped inside the Church of the Nativity in the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem since April 2 called Friday in a statement for help from Pope John Paul II and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The penned-up Palestinians demanded the pope and Annan "assume their responabilities" and "save" and "protect (them) from the Israeli plan... which has the goal of killing us without humanitarian, religious, moral or legal consideration," the group said, signing their name as the "besieged."

For 10 days, 200 armed Palestinians, 30 Franciscan priests and several civilians have been trapped in the Church of Nativity by a ring of Israeli soldiers.

The men's statement, released by the Lutheran church, is the first time the trapped Palestinians have sent an appeal to the outside world.

The Church of Nativity marks the spot where most Christians believe Jesus Christ was born.

Israel launched 14-days ago a sweeping offensive across the West Bank to root out "terrorist infrastructures". At least 200 Palestinians have been killed and more than 4,000 arrested since the start of the campaign.

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