New talks seek end to Bethlehem church siege


Negotiators held new talks today to try to reach a deal for civilians and some militants to leave Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, sources close to the talks said.

Negotiators were trying to revive parts of a deal to end Israel's 37-day-old siege of the church after it stalled on Tuesday when Italy refused to take 13 militants whom Israeli and Palestinian officials had agreed would be sent into exile.

The sources said the new talks were aimed at allowing the more than 100 civilians, including priests, nuns and foreign peace activists, to leave the church. The 13 most wanted militants would stay behind to await a decision on their fate.

The sources said there was also a possibility that 26 other militants inside the shrine since Israeli troops entered Bethlehem on April 2nd would be transferred to the Gaza Strip as previously agreed at negotiations.

In a sign that talks could be moving ahead, at least four robed priests emerged briefly from the church, spoke to Israeli army officials and then went back inside. Israeli forces surrounding the church set up barricades and a metal detector.