LONDON (AP) - The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said Friday during a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, that the Israeli-built wall around the traditional site of Jesus' birth symbolized what was "deeply wrong in the human heart," a British news agency reported.
Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, is on a four-day trip to the Holy Land along with other British church leaders. After six years of Israel-Palestinian fighting, the town is now walled in by Israel's West Bank separation barrier. Poverty is deepening and Christians are leaving in droves.
"The wall which we walked through a little while ago is a sign not simply of a passing problem in the politics of one region; it is sign of some of the things that are most deeply wrong in the human heart itself," Williams told his fellow church leaders, according to Britain's Press Association.
"We are here to say that security for one is security for all. For one to live under threat, whether of occupation, or of terror, is a problem for all, and a pain for all," he was quoted as saying.
Israel says the wall is meant to stop Palestinian suicide bombers but Palestinians see it as land grab.
Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh says the barrier separates residents of this town of 30,000 from jobs, studies, medical facilities and relatives in nearby Jerusalem.
He told the visiting clergy the town had been "transformed into an open prison" by the barrier.
"Your presence is challenging this ugly wall," Batarseh was quoted as saying.
Williams toured the Church of the Nativity on Thursday and recited prayers in the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born. He also met with local leaders and expressed solidarity with the Palestinians there, who have been hit hard by fighting.
Israel has said it would ease travel restrictions to allow pilgrims to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, and the Tourism Ministry said it expected 18,000 tourists to go to Bethlehem this year.
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