03/07/2006, 00.00
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What happened in Nazareth: the Custodian's account

The statement explains the "prudent" position taken by the Custodian of the Holy Land about the "attack" in the Basilica of the Annunciation. Fr Pizzaballa: Keep politics out of the Shrines." He also called on the Israeli government to guarantee respect for "all Holy Sites" and equality of rights for its citizens.

Nazareth (AsiaNews/CTS) – "Politics should not cross the threshold of the Shrines." This was the exhortation of the Custodian of the Holy Land, Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, in a long report about his position on the incident in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth on 3 March. A mentally unbalanced couple, a Jew and a Christian, threw fire crackers and created panic and protests among the population, resulting in clashes with police.

Soon after news of the incident came out, rumours that Jewish religious extremists were behind the attack spread. Today's report said: "The Custodian has been reproached for not denouncing the act of a Jew in its first statement at 10.30pm. Should only his religion have been considered, while his wife is a Christian? At that time, the perpetrators had already been identified: a couple of a history of similar actions." The report adds: "A religious extremist group at work at the time of the onset on Saturday, raised doubts about the identity of the perpetrators."

In his report, the Custodian underscored the seriousness of the incident, but also cautioned against exploiting what happened, given the timing: the run-up to elections in Israel. "The event cannot be dismissed as the explosion of a few firecrackers. Photos taken by the Franciscan monks in Nazareth bear witness to the presence of firecrackers and small gas cylinders, and as they are not fireworks enthusiasts, they cannot nor do they want to speculate on the damage the blast could have caused. However, there truly was an attack and an attempted attack in the Basilica of Nazareth." The Custodian "firmly condemned any action committed against a holy site and believers who go there, whichever religion they belong to". But, he emphasized, it is up to the inquiry to ascertain whether the move by the Habibi couple was "a deliberate act against a holy Christian site, or what it represents, or the community of the faithful." Pizzaballa said: "Politics must not cross the threshold of the Shrines."

The Custodian gave assurance that "his solidarity with the Arab population, who he supports in Israel and in Palestinian territory, would not fall short". In Israel, as in the territories, he called for "respect for the human rights of all, and for freedom of worship." There is a persistent call on the State of Israel to watch over, in accordance with its laws, all the Holy Sites." Solidarity was also expressed with the "Arab-Israeli population, and especially Christians", with whom he shared "the feeling of being considered as second, no, third-class citizens". In the report, he recalls the "frustration of these citizens who, because they are Arab, suffer all kinds of discrimination, especially at work. For this, the Custodian, when he can, and when he must, does not hesitate to remind the State of Israel of its duty to guarantee equality of rights for all the citizens of its country."

At the end of his statement, the Custodian gave thanks for the support given to the Church in the Holy Land, and also for the "solidarity of the Muslim population, which felt offended that a shrine consecrated to the Virgin Mary, venerated also in Islam, should have been damaged".

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