Twenty-Six Palestinians Leave Bethlehem Church
Is the Bethlehem standoff closer to resolution?
Twenty-six Palestinian civilians and police left the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem yesterday. This was the first release of people inside the church since nine children left last week. Seventy-five in all people have now exited. While media accounts vary, there are between 140 and 240 Palestinian gunmen, policemen, civilians, and Christian clerics still inside.
Those released say conditions inside the Church of the Nativity are not good. One said people are eating the leaves of lemon trees for nourishment. Some have lost the strength to walk.
After questioning, 24 of the 26 were free to go from a Beit Jalla hospital and a senior Palestinian officer was released later in the day. One is still being treated at the hospital. According to the Israeli military, which surrounded the church April 2, none of the 20 to 40 gunmen wanted for terrorism were among those released.
The release of the 26 Palestinians may not be a sign of resolution in Bethlehem. The Palestinians have said that talks to end the siege have not resumed and yesterday's release was the result of low-level negotiations.
The Boston Globe reports this morning that Palestinian negotiators are proposing to use the same formula for resolution in Bethlehem that was agreed upon last night to end the standoff at Yasser Arafat's headquarters. If successful, the compromise would send men wanted by Israel in both standoffs to prison on Palestinian territory under U.S. and British supervision.
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