Tags: Deal | Bethlehem | Church | Stalls | Again

Deal on Bethlehem Church Stalls Again

Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM

Israel wants to try some of those 13 people for murder.

Another group of militants, 26 of them, were to be evacuated to the Palestinian-controlled Gaza. There were also some 80 civilians, who fled there when Israel captured Bethlehem in its crackdown on militants five weeks ago.

An agreement worked out with the Palestinians provided that the 26 Gaza-bound militants would be transported there by bus Thursday morning and that the civilians would be freed after their identity was confirmed.

Busses were dispatched near the church. Reporters had been alerted at 4:45 a.m. and taken to a nearby roof to see the anticipated evacuation -- when the move was called off.

A spokesman for the negotiating team, Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, approached the reporters and told them they can go "for a nine-course meal."

"For peace, you need two sides," he said. "One is God, the other is in the church."

The Israelis brought back a tank that had been parked there and returned a crane that had mounted a camera that enabled them to see what was going inside the church, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

"At the last minute, the Palestinians tried to amend the agreement, but the amendment was not accepted," said a statement from the Israeli army spokesman.

Unconfirmed reports said the argument was over who would remain in the church with the 13 Palestinian militants.

The original plan had called for sending them to Italy, but the Italians refused to accept them.

The United States and Britain have asked Spain to take the 13 militants, United Press International was told. They may be divided between Spain and Italy, but so far neither Madrid nor Rome has agreed to the plan, the source said.

Jordan has also refused to take any of the 13 suspected Palestinian militants, an official Jordanian source said Wednesday.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer asked European Union envoy Javier Solana to help find a country willing to take the 13 militants. Ben-Eliezer's media adviser, Yarden Vatikay, said Solana agreed to help, but has not yet reported success.

The anticipated release had raised the spirits of the Palestinians in the church.

"The mood of the militants is high," said Mohamed Nasri, a Palestinian police officer who was to be taken to Gaza.

"Ending the standoff in the church would not only help the people holed up in the church, it will end the curfew imposed on 140,000 people in Bethlehem," said Jihad Ja'ara, one of the militants scheduled to be expelled.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Israel wants to try some of those 13 people for murder. Another group of militants, 26 of them, were to be evacuated to the Palestinian-controlled Gaza. There were also some 80 civilians, who fled there when Israel captured Bethlehem in its crackdown on militants five...
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2002-00-09
Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM
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