The pastor at one of the most prominent churches in Bethlehem says the building is in danger of collapsing, following last week's earthquake that shook parts of the Middle East. The tremors also inflicted minor damage to some of the shrines most closely associated with the birth of Jesus.

Reverend Mitri Raheb of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem has warned townsfolk that his sanctuary has become a potentially lethal danger zone following last Wednesday's earthquake. He says urgent repairs are needed at the shrine, whose steeple in the center of Bethlehem dominates the skyline in the reputed birthplace of Jesus.

Rev. Raheb told VOA that parts of the shrine cracked open in the earthquake and he fears more of it may collapse. The danger is that the king stone at the top of the steeple broke in half and part of it fell. "Thank God it did not hit anyone. Our fear is that if the second part of it will collapse, more and more stones will just start collapsing one after the other," he said.

He said he will soon seek foreign financial support to ensure that safety is restored at the site. His church was not the only one affected.

When the earthquake shook the Holy Land, the tremors also produced cracks in some of the most famous shrines of Bethlehem.

Small fractures are now visible in the arched ceiling of the Church of St. Catherine, famous for the worldwide broadcast of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve each year.

The Roman Catholic sanctuary is connected to the Church of the Nativity, built over the cave where tradition holds Jesus was born.

Repair work will begin soon in the Catholic shrine, which was fully restored in 1999 for the millennium celebrations marking 2000 years since the birth of Christ.