In Bethlehem, four Palestinian policemen, weakened by lack of food, emerged Friday from the Church of the Nativity. One was treated at an Israeli hospital, and three were being questioned, the Israeli military said.
Meanwhile, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to end the month-old Israeli siege of the church have broken down, the city's mayor Hanna Nasser told AFP.
"Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians at the local level are broken down for the time being and it doesn't look encouraging," said Nasser, one of the three main Palestinian negotiators.
Five rounds of talks failed to produce an agreement to end the standoff. Fellow Palestinian negotiator Imad Natche added that the Israelis signaled it was no longer useful to conduct the talks at a local level. They told the Palestinian negotiators that the United States was in direct contact with Mohammad Rashid, economic adviser to Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat, Natche said.
The Bethlehem mayor made these comments after he and his fellow negotiators Salah al-Tamaari and Natche were rebuffed by the Israeli army in a bid to enter the church to deliver food to those inside.
Nasser said the Israelis had first agreed to the move, but a uniformed officer intervened at the last minute and told them, "If you want to get inside the church, you have to provide us with a list of all of those inside."
The three Palestinian negotiators found the terms unacceptable and quit Manger Square, site of the church, Nasser said.
"We cannot go on negotiating with people who do not honor what we agree upon," Taamari told reporters, speaking on the Orthodox Christian Good Friday, the day on which many Christians believe Jesus was crucified.
"They had informed us that the food was ready, and even that the food was hot," Taamari said.
And in the West Bank town of Ramallah, the Palestinian Cabinet on Friday discussed the fate of two senior officials imprisoned as part of a U.S.-brokered deal that led to Yasser Arafat's release from Israeli confinement this week, and Palestinian officials said they expected the two to be freed soon.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Palestinian officials said that under the U.S. deal, the fate of Ahmed Saadat and Fuad Shobaki was left in the hands of the Palestinian legal system.
Israeli officials disputed the claim, saying they were assured by the United States that Saadat and Shobaki would remain locked up as a condition for freeing Arafat. U.S. Embassy officials in Tel Aviv declined comment on whether the United States would permit their release. However, officials close to the negotiations said parts of the deal had been left purposely vague to allow for a quick agreement on getting Arafat released from Israeli confinement.
Israel had initially demanded the extradition of Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Shobaki, a senior Arafat aide. Israel accuses Saadat of masterminding the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October, and alleges Shobaki financed a large shipment of illegal weapons. (Albawaba.com)
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