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      Christians Fleeing Bethlehem´s Moslem Majority

      Bethlehem's Christian population has declined 10 percent in five years, and Moslems now are the majority in the city where Christians, once a majority, often have been the targets of Moslem riots.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 12/25/2005, 10:57 AM / Last Update: 12/25/2005, 1:03 PM

      Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas visited Bethlehem Saturday night during midnight mass and used the holidays as a platform to call on the Christian community to denounce the partition barrier which separates Bethlehem from the southern limits of Jerusalem.

      Foreign clerics joined Abbas, and the Archbishop of Westminster, England told worshippers that Bethlehem's citizens are "terribly alone" because of the barrier. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor urged Israel "to build bridges and not walls" and blamed Israel for making Christians feeling "compelled to leave the land of their birth for foreign lands, on account of the political situation."

      However, no mention was made of the Arab terrorists' siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem three years ago, when they held nuns and priests as hostages and looted the building. A document captured by Israel shows that the terrorists who broke into the church demanded monetary support from Bethlehem town officials

      Last week, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists stormed PA offices near the church for several hours on Thursday before leaving under threat of a clash with PA forces.

      Christians have been fleeing Bethlehem in droves due to security concerns and the changeover to Arab authority in the town, with 3,000 having fled since the outbreak of the Oslo War in 2000.

      Ten years ago, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat replaced the Christian-dominated town council with a predominately Moslem council. Christians made up 90 percent of the city before Israel became a state in 1948, but a Moslem influx has turned the Christians into a minority of less than 20 percent.

      Bethlehem also is the popular site of the Jewish matriarch Rachel's Tomb, where visitors to the holy site must pass through an intense security checkpoint.

      The PA officially claims to allow freedom of religion, but Moslem sermons have linked Jews and Christians as enemies.

      A PA Information Ministry statement states, "The Palestinian people are also governed by [Islamic] Shari'a law..., and any Muslim who [converts] or declares becoming an unbeliever is committing a major sin punishable by capital punishment...."

      Anti-Christian sentiment also has been evident elsewhere in the PA. Last September, hundreds of armed Moslems terrorized the Christian city of Taibe in Samaria, burning homes and cars, and destroying a sacred Catholic statue.

      In one riot in 2002, Moslems instigated "a rampage...after torching the Christian properties," according to the Boston Globe.