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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Hamas leader held in Bethlehem
Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem
Soldiers are still surrounding the Church of the Nativity
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Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Bethlehem
line
Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem have arrested a senior member of the militant group Hamas.

Palestinians say Khalid al-Tafesh was taken from his home during Thursday night as the Israeli army's military operations continued in the city.

Khalid Tafesh is the imam of the main mosque in Bethlehem - an Islamist who has been arrested in the past by the Palestinian Authority.

A Catholic nun from New York talks to an Israeli soldier in Bethlehem
Peace activists have been trying to deliver food
He was one of a group of about 400 Islamists deported by Israel to southern Lebanon in the early 1990s.

Palestinians in Bethlehem say he was a political leader of Hamas, but the Israeli army has described him as a high-ranking military commander with links to militants from Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

It says he was arrested during a four-hour operation close to the Church of the Nativity, where the Israeli siege continues.

Hungry Palestinians

The mayor Bethlehem, Hanna Nasser, told the BBC there had been no progress so far in arranging talks to end the stand-off.

After 18 days, conditions inside the church are deteriorating as food runs out.

In the past few days, the atmosphere in the church is said to have become tense after hungry Palestinians broke into a church kitchen.

One of the besieged Palestinians contacted by mobile phone said 200 people were now subsisting on enough rice for only 15.

He said everyone inside was now tired and frightened.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Vatican outrage over church siege
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Church with a turbulent history
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