The Latin Patriarch in the Holy Land has called on Israel to stop its troops firing at an Arab Christian village and to surrender all occupied land to the Palestinians.
Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the highest-ranking Catholic official in Jerusalem, made the appeal during a tour of Beit Jalla, near Bethlehem on the West Bank.
Beit Jalla has been subject to Israeli tank fire since Palestinian gunmen began using the village as a base to fire at Gilo, a neighbouring Jewish suburb of Jerusalem. Gilo is built on land annexed by Israel following the 1967 Middle East war.
Archbishop Sabbah said that Israel must not react by increasing levels of firepower.
About 130 people, most of them Palestinians, have died in violent clashes with Israeli security forces that began on Sept. 28. Israeli officials claim that Palestinians fired from Beit Jalla hoping that Israeli tanks, returning fire, would damage a church in the village, igniting the wrath of the Christian world, including the Vatican.
But Archbishop Sabbah, the first Palestinian to serve as Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said it was Israel that must ease tensions by giving up territory to the Palestinians. He said Israel must end its military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, the areas captured by Israel during the 1967 war.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has claimed that all of the territories are necessary for the founding of an independent Palestinian state.