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Turf Battle In Nazareth

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CBS
There are Israeli Arabs, worshiping Allah, in the center of the town where Jesus lived as a boy. They are also at the center of a conflict over how the Holy Land is shared, CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth reports.

"This land is very important land for Moslems," explains Salman Abu Achmad. "This is a Holy Land for Moslems."

But it's also in the shadow of a Christian shrine: the Basilica of the Annunciation, built on the place where believers say an angel told Mary she would bear the son of God.

When Christians proposed a new plaza here, the Moslems said it was time to build a mosque. And what has risen is a crisis.

"I can say that the church in this very time is carrying a cross in the Holy Land," Giacinto Marcuzzo, the local bishop.

The church says it was just a bit of open space it wanted, next to the basilica: a millennium plaza, a magnet for the crowds of tourists sure to be drawn to Nazareth.

Moslems were outraged when the town council agreed. They pitched a tent in protest and wouldn't budge.

Violence broke out last Easter, and the Israeli government stepped in with a plan of its own: a smaller mosque, a smaller plaza, and no construction until after the millennium is celebrated. It's a compromise that's left the Christians of Nazareth feeling betrayed.

"The Christians feel alone in the battle," says Christian community leader Samer Salman. "We don't feel the solidarity of the international Christianity."
Part of the reason is tourism is in a slump. The conflict has pushed the town off many Holy Land itineraries -- a commercial crisis that's hurt both sides.

"As I came, here my first impression was a very positive impression, of a town united," Bishop Marcuzzo. "And now unfortunately, it is divided."

And while reuniting the sides may take a miracle, the bishop says that has happened here before. Just about two thousand years ago.