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Bethlehem Standoff Talks Break Down

Posted on 05/09/2002 6:29:18 AM PDT by Dallas

BETHLEHEM, West Bank --

Efforts to end the five-week standoff at the Church of the Nativity broke down yet again Thursday -- just hours after a partial solution seemed in place -- because of disagreement over sending a European monitor into the shrine, negotiators said.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators accused each other of violating the terms of their arduously reached agreement. The Palestinians said Israel refused at the last minute to implement the deal and the Israelis said the Palestinians had made new, unacceptable demands.

"They torpedoed an effort which would have brought almost to a complete close the crisis," said an Israeli military spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal. Efforts to resolve the standoff continued, he said.

The Jordanian news agency, meanwhile, reported the kingdom had been approached about taking the men and had refused.

"Jordan's position is firm and clear ... Jordan rejects the principle of the deportation and the displacement of the Palestinian citizens to Jordan, even temporarily," the Petra agency quoted an unidentified official as saying. The report did not say when the request was made.

The siege began April 2 when more than 200 Palestinians fled into the church, which marks the birthplace of Jesus, ahead of invading Israeli forces. In the weeks that followed, several groups of civilians and Palestinian policemen left the compound.

Early Thursday, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators said a deal was in place to allow dozens of Palestinians to emerge from the church, leaving behind 13 suspected militants whom Israel wants deported.

A group of 26 suspected gunmen was to leave the church first Thursday, to be transported to Gaza and about 80 civilians inside the church would be freed, Dallal said. The last 13 would remain while negotiators worked to find a country to take them. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday that Spain might be willing to take three or four of them.

Buses pulled into Manger Square early Thursday, presumably to transport those inside the church to their destinations.

But hours later the talks broke down and the buses drove away empty.

An Israeli negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Palestinians caused the delay when they made a last-minute demand that a European envoy enter the church to remain with the 13 until a host country was found.

Ala Hosni, the Palestinian police chief in Bethlehem, confirmed that the dispute arose over the proposed monitor, European envoy Alastair Crooke, but said that had been part of the agreement and Israel reneged on it.

Hosni said there was also a dispute over the collection of the weapons in the church. The police chief said Israel had initially agreed that the 13, who would remain in the church, would be allowed to keep their assault rifles.

"After we gave them two hours to prepare themselves, they surprised us by rejecting everything we had agreed upon," Hosni said. "The ball is in the Israeli court now."

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the talks were only temporarily stalled, and the conflict could be resolved soon.

"The situation is very, very delicate, people are exhausted," he said. "I prefer to be optimistic ... and think a solution will be found."

Deportation of 13 gunmen from the Christian shrine was one of the sticking points preventing a complete resolution to the siege. Negotiators agreed on the deportation Tuesday and said Italy would host the men, but Italian officials balked, saying they had not be fully consulted about the plan.

Peres told reporters Thursday that Spain may agree to take three or four of the men and that Italy had not given a definite answer. The United States and other countries were working to find a place to take the accused militants, he said.

"The real difficult part of it are the 13 people who are accused of terror," he said.

Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Israel; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: alastaircrooke; mi6; skinhead; unitedkingdom

1 posted on 05/09/2002 6:29:18 AM PDT by Dallas
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To: Dallas
Now why do you suppose the Euro-weenies and the Saudis won't take custody of the murderous terrorists--ooopsie, I mean brave freedom fighters--that they're so enamoured with?
2 posted on 05/09/2002 6:32:57 AM PDT by mewzilla
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To: Dallas
Last night standing outside the Church of the Nativity, Geraldo was breathlessly reporting that "Any second now they will be leaving the Church". 'Reminded me of that incredibly boring TV show about the Al Capone dig thingy.
3 posted on 05/09/2002 6:41:36 AM PDT by Carolinamom
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To: Dallas
This is lunacy. It should be treated as a hostage situation, not some kind of community conflict mediation exercise.
4 posted on 05/09/2002 6:42:02 AM PDT by jgorris
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To: mewzilla
The Saudis used up all their amnesty space for Idi Amin?

Israel should smoke them out of there. Warn them to leave unarmed and to go to a specific location upon exiting, or get shot by snipers. It's time for Israel to use tear gas.

5 posted on 05/09/2002 9:07:34 AM PDT by monkeyshine
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