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Friday, March 24, 2017
Church of Nativity siege: final negotiations continue
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¬†Late last night, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was still surrounded by Israeli tanks and soldiers. Speaking by telephone, earlier in the day, the Mayor of Bethlehem, Hanna Nasser, told the missionary news service: "The accord has not been signed yet, but we expect that by today the situation will be resolved. We are close to signing a final agreement". The sticking point in negotiations appears to be the number of men in the church accused of terrorism by Israel, who are to be taken to Italy - where they will be under the jurisdiction of the Vatican. Initially it was reported that six or seven men had been named. The Israeli authorities are now calling for a further seven to be expelled. "This aspect is the only obstacle to overcome," said the Mayor. "For the rest, it is agreed that at least a group of 30 ≠ 35 people will be transferred to the Gaza Strip in the presence of US and English observers. For the whole night we waited for the arrival of the international observers, but no one ever arrived". Among the 123 Palestinians barricaded inside the compound, there are at least 80-85 people that may return to their homes, the Mayor said. "However at the moment, Manger Square remains unchanged. "The doors of the Church are closed and the Israeli's guard the Basilica as they have been doing for the last 34 days". A spokesperson for the Palestinian independent on-line news service told ICN: "They spoke of an agreement yesterday. Nothing is clear at present. We are still waiting for news." Franciscan Fr David Jaeger, spokesman of the Custody of the Holy Land, said: "I deplore the fact that there are those that want to gratuitously prolong this torment and now more than ever exhort the sides to give proof of their intelligence and reason, but also heart". "Evidently someone still wants to take small strategic benefits from the situation, but there is no more time, this drama must be ended immediately".
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