Israelis and Palestinians reached a security accord last night for the gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the holy city of Bethlehem. According to the Israeli Defence Ministry withdrawal from Bethlehem and Gaza will start today, following the signing of an accord last night in Tel Aviv by Israeli Defence Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer and Palestinian Interior Minister Abdelrazak al Yahya. "We will take it step by step," said the Israeli politician after the agreement was signed. "It is an authentic offer to the Palestinians for an end to the violence and terror and the undertaking of a new road." The agreement has been met with cautious optimism on the West Bank and Gaza despite rejection by the Hamas Palestinian radical movement as "an initiative to calm Palestinians..... in preparation for a US attack against Iraq". Earlier this year the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was under siege for five weeks after Israel invaded the West Bank on April 2. The Israeli government contended that there were known terrorists among those who had taken refuge in the Bascilica after they closed down the West Bank and introduced tough curfews. International negotiations involving the church and the Franciscan monks also inside the church eventually reached a successful conclusion 39 days later.
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