Divisions and recriminations as Nativity siege ends

Pressure from the Vatican was instrumental in finalising the deal which ended the 5-week siege of the fourth-century Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The deal, which freed the 150 people trapped inside, nearly collapsed as vehicles which were to take the Palestinians to different destinations were told they could not leave. The revving engines were turned off and the table filled with bottles of water stood abandoned outside the Basilica.

What follows is a sea of recriminations and apparent divisions, with every side accusing the other. First to be accused of the last-minute hitch were the Americans. A Bethlehem official declared to international journalists that “The EU representative wanted to go into the church...and the Americans put a veto on that. I do not know why they did not like it. The important thing is that America has the upper hand and it can do what it wants”.

This seems not to be the case. What was agreed was that the 13 Palestinians considered by the Israeli authorities as being most dangerous were to be taken into exile, another group of 26 medium-risk Palestinians were to go to Gaza to be imprisoned by the Palestine Authority and the rest, after identification, were to be freed. As US vehicles lined up to take the first group of 13 away for transportation by a British aircraft to Cyprus, the Israeli troops blocked the vehicles.

The United States had also agreed to a British envoy accompanying the Palestinians to ensure their safety, but this was also blocked by the Israeli authorities. The Israelis blame the Palestinians for the hitch, due to last-minute demands but the real reason appears to be internal divisions within Israel, between the military and the Intelligence Service, Shin Bet.


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