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Sunday, 21 April, 2002, 18:49 GMT 19:49 UK
Palestinians flee Bethlehem church
An Israeli tank close to the Church of the Nativity
There has been no progress in negotiation attempts
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By Jonny Dymond in Bethlehem
line

Five Palestinians escaped from the besieged Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem just after dark on Sunday

A sixth man failed in an attempt to escape

An Israeli tank patrols the area surrounding the church
Israel says it will remain until Palestinian militants are handed over
The five who made it out into the old city of Bethlehem left the building via ladders placed against its walls by the Israeli army.

Sources say that this escape method has led some inside the church to believe that the men may be Israeli collaborators.

Discipline breaking down

The background of the men is not known, but they are not believed to be fighters wanted by the Israeli army.

This too has led some to suggest an element of collaboration with the army. The Israeli army has so far refused to comment.

Communication with those inside the church is patchy.

Contradictory stories emerge - but the escape attempt may indicate that discipline inside the church is breaking down.

By Monday, the siege will have lasted three weeks.

Food has run out and there are reportedly tensions within different groups inside the church.

There has been no progress in negotiation attempts, and the Israeli army still maintains a high profile presence in the city of Bethlehem.

See also:

21 Apr 02 | Middle East
'Food runs out' in Bethlehem church
21 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair urges new Mid-East peace talks
20 Apr 02 | Middle East
Tragedy at Jenin, says US envoy
19 Apr 02 | Middle East
Rescue teams join Jenin search
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