Update: 7/28/06: BYU will not re-open Jerusalem Center this fall.

In an update to my original BYU Jerusalem post here, BYU Newsnet reports that The Center is now being used as a voluntary relocation center for Church members living in Israel. Members are congretating there to stay away from missile fire. BYU Jerusalem’s fall semester is now in question:

As LDS Church members living in Israel are being “voluntarily relocated” to the BYU Jerusalem Center to be away from missile fire, the status of the BYU Jerusalem program for fall semester is in question.

Church members living in the Tiberias area of Israel, an area frequently visited by BYU students studying at the Jerusalem Center, relocated from their homes to the Center as missiles struck Saturday, according to Ann Hansen, a church member living in Israel. The members were in their church building on the Sabbath when missiles began striking a mere two blocks from the building. Windows at the back of the chapel were broken by missile blasts.

Carri Jenkins, University spokesperson, said an invitation was extended to church members living in Northern Israel to stay at the Jerusalem Center, and about 18 members are currently at the Center. Hansen believed about 30 initially accepted the offer, but didn’t say how many currently remain.

The Center is an attractive option not only for its location and empty dorm rooms, but also for the its bomb shelter:

Members relocated to the Jerusalem Center because it sits farther away from the Lebanon border than their homes in Tiberias, making a longer distance for the missiles to travel. The Center has empty dorm rooms and a bomb shelter that can house a couple hundred people.

BYU has not yet made a decision about the status of the program.

“We are aware of what is happening,” Jenkins said. “We are closely monitoring the situation.”

As in the past, situations in the Middle East change rapidly.

“When BYU announced the program [in June], everything was looking pretty peaceful and calm, but things flared up,” said Chad Emmett, an associate geography professor. “But as things go in the Middle East, [the violence] could die down soon too. It’s too soon to tell what is going to happen.”

BYU students who originally signed up to return to The Center this fall are now reconsidering, as missiles now are falling further and further into Israel:

Given the current situation in the Middle East, students who had been considering applying to study in Jerusalem may be reconsidering.

“I was really excited about the possibility of studying in Jerusalem,” said Rachel Ricchio, a junior majoring in nursing. “Now I’m not so sure. The violence is really making me rethink applying. I wouldn’t want to get over there and then be locked in the Center because of the violence.”

BYU announced in June that the Jerusalem program would resume after being closed to students since 2001. Applications for the program were accepted from June 26-July 7. There were approximately 125 students who applied for 44 spots in the program. Students who were accepted will be notified by the end of the month, Jenkins said.

Because of the risk associated with travel in Israel and within the Holy Land, the State Department asks U.S. citizens to carefully consider the necessity of travel in the area. The State Department also urges Americans to avoid the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I’m sure the Church and BYU officials are very closely monitoring developments. This has to be a heart break for those students planning on attending in the Fall. While it’s still too early to tell, the fact that missiles are traveling greater distances into Israel cannot be a good sign.