Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

26 April 1999


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

WINDHOEK, 22 April -- The millennium celebrations due to take place in Bethlehem would not only mark a very important religious historic occasion of worldwide dimension and universal significance, but also would herald to the world a rebirth of the Palestinian nation, Nabeen Kassis, Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Coordinator General of the Bethlehem 2000 Project, told the United Nations African Meeting in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this morning.

Speaking at the plenary session, entitled "Celebrating the new millennium in a global vision of peace and reconciliation -- the Bethlehem 2000 Project of the Palestinian Authority", Mr. Kassis briefed participants on the goals of the Project, its components, its preparation status and the role of the international community in its implementation. The Palestinian Authority had various goals for this Project -- to launch a programme of economic development of Bethlehem and its environs, to rebuild the debilitated infrastructure of the city and district, and to restore the cultural heritage of the district.

With the overwhelming support the Project had received thus far from the international community, Mr. Kassis invited countries to further contribute to the celebrations by organizing befitting cultural events to take place in Bethlehem. He also expressed the hope that Israel would change its current laws concerning, in particular, freedom of movement in the vicinity of Bethlehem, putting an end to the closings and to the expansion of Israeli settlements around Bethlehem. The celebrations should become a solemn and reconciliative experience for all, but most particularly for the Palestinian people, who for many years had no reason to celebrate.

After Mr. Kassis's statement, participants were shown a video film entitled "Bethlehem 2000".

Reverend Nangula E. Kathindi, Secretary-General of the Council of Churches in Namibia, reaffirmed the support of Namibian Christians with the Palestinian people in their struggle for independence and self-determination. She reminded the participants that Bethlehem is a spiritual city for all Christians. Namibians would pray for the success of the Bethlehem 2000 Project, she said.

Ibra Deguène Ka, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, gave an overview of the Committee's role in promoting the Bethlehem 2000 Project, since the Brussels Conference of February 1997, which inspired resolution 53/27 of 18 November adopted without a vote by the United Nations General Assembly, to the present.

The ensuing discussion revolved mainly around how to prevent Israel from sabotaging the celebrations. It was said that, currently, Israeli checkpoints at the entrance of Bethlehem often block the freedom of movement of Palestinians, and that Israel continued to expand the large ring of settlements around Bethlehem. It was hoped that the international community would pressure Israel to respect the universal importance of the Bethlehem 2000 Project and discourage the Israeli Government for using that event for possible political gains. Ibra Deguène Ka emphasized that the Bethlehem 2000 Project is not only for the Palestinians, but the entire world. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, together with the international community was determined to make sure that Israel is cognizant of this reality.


* Reissued to correct symbol of press release. It had been previously issued as PAL/1872.

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For information media - not an official record