Photo: Reuters
Church of the Nativity, 2000-
Photo: Reuters

Church of Nativity exiles may be granted reprieve

Militants exiled to Gaza, Europe, after 5-week takeover of famous Bethlehem church in 2002, may be allowed to return to West Bank, Palestinian sources say, citing Olmert-Abbas meeting

Palestinian militants exiled from the West Bank in 2002 - following a stand-off with the IDF in which gunmen took over the Church of the Nativity - may be allowed to return, senior sources from the Palestinian Authority said Tuesday.


According to the sources, future coordination of the issue was agreed upon during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier Tuesday.


Family members of the exiles and sources in the Palestinian Authority expressed hope that an agreement would soon be consolidated that would allow the militants to return to Bethlehem, as the exiles in Gaza – primarily Fatah-affiliated - have been complaining of harassment by Hamas since the group's June takeover of Gaza.


Exile Jihad Jaara told Ynet that, according to information he received from senior Palestinian officials, a solution for the exiles will be implemented beginning Ramadan, at the beginning of October.


The takeover of the church

On April 2, 2002, armed Palestinians forced their way into the church in Bethlehem, taking priests and nuns hostage, in order to escape from IDF troops in the midst of the anti-terrorist Operation Defensive Shield. The gunmen refused to surrender their positions inside the Church for over five weeks.


Under a heavily-mediated agreement to end the stand-off, 26 of the Palestinians from the Church of the Nativity were to be exiled in the Gaza Strip. Thirteen others were to be deported abroad.


According to Jaara, in the upcoming days the two sides will begin discussions regarding the return of those Palestinians who were exiled to Gaza. "The goal of the discussions is to ensure the safety of the exiles in Gaza and to ensure they won't be trailed or arrested by Israel," he said.


Following these discussions, additional meetings will take place to determine the fate of the 13 Palestinians (11 from Fatah and two from Hamas) who were deported to Europe. These 13 are considered terrorists by Israel, and the state had originally wanted to try them.


On May 10, 2002, at the conclusion of the stand-off, IDF forces entered the Church of the Nativity in order to search for weapons inside the church at the request of the priests. In addition to weapons, soldiers found 40 explosive charges that were hidden within walls and in corners of rooms. Several improvised explosives were found hidden behind closets.


פרסום ראשון: 08.28.07, 20:59
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