By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
Representatives of various Christian denominations in Jerusalem, including the Armenian Apostolic Church, met Saturday with the visiting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and asked him to put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw his troops from Bethlehem.
The Christian leaders handed over a joint memorandum suggesting a solution to the escalating conflict. The memorandum calls on Israel to withdraw its troops from Bethlehem in the next three days and allow over 200 armed Palestinians to lay down their weapons and go home.
Bishop Aris Shirvanian of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem told RFE/RL that Powell was due to discuss the standoff around Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity at a meeting with Sharon on Saturday evening.
Shirvanian described the meeting between the Christian clergy and Powell as successful. He said Powell stressed the importance of a peaceful end to the standoff but gave no promise to solve the conflict.
According to the Armenian bishop, Powell will also discuss the situation around one of Christianity’s holiest shrines with the beleaguered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday.
According to the Associated Press, the proposals made by the Christian leaders in Jerusalem are unlikely to satisfy Israel. A spokeswoman of the Israeli foreign ministry declined to comment on the proposals.
On Friday, the Israeli army admitted that one of its soldiers shot and wounded an Armenian monk inside the Church of the Nativity compound after mistaking him for a Palestinian gunman.
Shirvanian said that the 22-year-old religious student, Armen Sinanian, regained consciousness Friday and will be transferred from an intensive care unit where he underwent surgery. A surgeon at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem told Armenian Church officials that Sinanian, who is an Armenian citizen, is recovering and will be transferred to the general unit within a week.
Meanwhile, Catholicos Garegin II met with Sinanian's parents in Echmiadzin and prayed for peace in the Holy Land on Friday. The leader of Armenian Church issued a statement the previous day calling for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Armenian foreign ministry also expressed concern about the shooting incident and urged Israel not to storm the Bethlehem basilica.