A meeting planned between the Palestinians and Israeli to discuss the siege of the Church of the Nativity was cancelled this morning. A five-strong Palestinian delegation led by the Mayor of Bethlehem Hanna Nasser, was due to meet the Israelis, headed by the commander of the military operations in Bethlehem. The Missionary news service said it appeared that the Israeli military authorities rejected the participation of representatives of the Vatican and Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Fr Giovanni Battistelli, representing the Franciscans in the Holy Land said he was "deeply disappointed", adding that: "they are dying of hunger in the complex. Caroline Hawley, BBC correspondent in Bethlehem said this morning: "The centre of Bethlehem has become a public health hazard. Millions of dollars of investment for the millennium have gone up in smoke." She described: "Cars crushed by Israeli tanks, shop shutters torn off, sewage flowing over the cobbles, pipes spewing out water and mounting, stinking piles of uncollected rubbish." Reporting from the Star Hotel in Manger Square, from where a group of journalists are observing the siege, alongside a group of Israeli soldiers, she said: "A major human drama is now unfolding behind those walls."
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