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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Explosions Reported at Church of the Nativity

Aired April 18, 2002 - 14:39   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: It's a busy day around the world today. We want to now update you on a breaking development in the Middle East. There, John Vause is on the telephone from Bethlehem, where apparently there has been some reported explosions at the Church of Nativity there, where many Palestinians are holed up there, for weeks now, as the violence ensues in that area -- John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, we have seen at least 12 large explosions, heard those explosions, seen the flashes. We understand them to be stun grenades which are being thrown into what appears to be the square around the Church of the Nativity.

There has also been the constant sound of gunfire, both what sounds like a heavy caliber as well as M16 fire as well. It's too difficult to say, if there has been an exchange of fire coming from the church and places outside. But it certainly has been a constant sound of gunfire, at least over the last hour, going on to two hours now.

We also heard a number of loud explosions coming from the southeast of the square, the main road between Bethlehem and Beit Jala. Eyewitnesses tell us that the Israeli defense force has in fact blown up two cars. Now, this, of course, is a siege which has been going on since April 2nd.

There are between 200 and 300 people inside the Church of Nativity. That is surrounded by Israeli soldiers. We were down there earlier today. There is barbed wire around the square. It is very difficult to get anywhere near there. Residents here have been under a curfew. They are allowed out for a few hours a day. But they hurry back into their homes just around 5:00 local time.

But as you said, that activity certainly picked up as the sun was setting and it continued on into the night. Right now, though, there seems to be a lull in the activity. But there still is a sound of gunfire around the church.

Also what is troubling there is an orange glow coming from behind the church. From our position -- we're about 500 yards from the church -- it's too difficult to see if there is actually a fire. But there is in fact an orange glow which could be a fire resulting from the stun grenades, which have been thrown into the manger square area.

As I said, at least 12 of those in the last hour or so -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, John, how does this compare to the kind of fire fighting activity we saw a couple of nights ago just outside the Church of Nativity and above the Church of the Nativity there?

VAUSE: This certainly seems to be an intensification of that. We were here last night as well and there was at least two traces over the square as well as the sound of gunfire, as well. But certainly nothing like we've seen in the last couple of hours. So what will happen, we do not know.

The Israelis say they will not storm the church. And they have promised to try and protect that very sacred place to Christians around the world, this very religious site. But At this stage, it certainly seems to have been ratcheted up a notch or two, compared to, as you say, the last couple of days.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you very much, John Vause reporting from Bethlehem. Reporting that several rounds of fire are being heard at the Church of the Nativity there in Bethlehem, where between 200 and 300 people have been holed up, including religious leaders and Palestinians inside the Church of the Nativity, since April 2nd.

And right now he is reporting some sights of a glow coming from behind the building, but it's difficult at this juncture to discern what is causing that and why such explosions and reports of gunfire have erupted at the Church of the Nativity.

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