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CNN BREAKING NEWS

CORRECTED COPY Palestinians Leave Church of Nativity

Aired April 30, 2002 - 10:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go ahead and start this hour with some breaking news out of Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. After more than four weeks of virtual deadlock, this situation appears to be changing quite rapidly with some unarmed Palestinians beginning to leave this Christian sanctuary within the past hour.

Our Mike Hanna is in Bethlehem, and he has the latest for us -- Mike, hello.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello there. Throughout the past hour, as you say, we have been watching people emerge from the Church of the Nativity, this place which Christians believe that Jesus Christ was born. And it has been the scene of a month-long siege with well over 200 people holed up in the Church of the Nativity surrounded by Israeli forces.

Well, throughout recent weeks, there have been ongoing negotiations to resolve this crisis in a peaceful way. People have been emerging in drips and drabs, but in the course of this afternoon, a large amount of people came out of the church, 27 according to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. Among these were a number of Palestinian civilians, as well as a number of Palestinian police officers. They had sought refuge in the church, when Israeli forces moved into Bethlehem as part of a massive military offensive at the beginning of the month.

And one of the Israeli negotiators has told me he believes that this shows that there are signs of progress in negotiations. Also he says, giving hope that this whole wider crisis can be peacefully resolved. There are still 120 people holed up in the Church of the Nativity. Among them as many as 20 whom Israel says are on its most wanted list of people that Israel described as terrorists.

But says Israel, the rest of those within the Church of the Nativity, it wants to see unharmed when this crisis is resolved, and it says that the release or the emergence from the church of 27 people in the course of the day, a sign that a peaceful resolution to this ongoing standoff is possible -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Mike, a number of people who are holed up in that church over the last month has been children or teenagers. Do we know of those who are being released that those include some of the kids? HANNA: Well, there were a number of kids, Palestinian youths who emerged from the church in recent days, as many as nine emerged last week. And of those coming out today, very difficult to see each and every one from our vantage point, we were about a hundred yards away from where these proceedings were happening. It did appear that for the most part they were all young men rather than youths. They were all male. There were no women that we could see among those who came out of the Church of the Nativity.

One makes the assumption at this stage that inside the church are still a number of youths, but we are not exactly clear who fled in panic in the church when this whole crisis began, but very difficult to gauge exactly who is inside there. This is a problem of the Israel authorities in particular of not knowing exactly who is inside, although Israel says that it has identified some wanted militants among those who have holed up in the church -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Mike Hanna bringing us the latest of this developing news from Bethlehem -- Mike, we will check with you throughout the morning.

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