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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Bethlehem talks 'break down'
Tank outside Church of the Nativity
Some 170 Palestinians are trapped inside the church
Talks in Bethlehem to end Israel's two-month siege of the Church of the Nativity have broken down, according to the city's mayor.

"Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians at the local level are broken down for the time being and it doesn't look encouraging," mayor Hanna Nasser told the AFP news agency.

Five rounds of talks have failed to produce an agreement to end the standoff at the church, where about 170 Palestinians are surrounded by Israeli troops.

The church has been under siege for two months
Earlier in the day, signs were encouraging, as Palestinian negotiator Salah El Tamari and a representative of the Israeli army began their first talks for five days.

Palestinian officials said they had struck a deal with Israel to bring food to people trapped in the church.

Four wounded men were also brought out of the besieged building, one of Christianity's holiest sites.

But Hanna Nasser told AFP that he and two other negotiators were stopped by the Israeli army when they tried to enter the church to deliver the food.

Mr Nasser said a uniformed officer had intervened at the last minute and told them they first had to provide a list of all the people inside.

The negotiators found the terms unacceptable and left the area.

'Many dehydrated'

The standoff at the church, which marks the birthplace of Jesus, began when Palestinians fled into the church under Israeli gunfire.

Those inside include civilians, a few dozen clergy and nuns, and a number of armed militants.

Eleven peace activists also slipped into the church with food on Thursday and vowed to stay in solidarity with those inside.

A British activist inside the church told the BBC that the people inside are having to eat grass and drink dwindling supplies of rain water. Many are dehydrated.

The Israelis insist they have been delivering 50 rations a day and leaving them at the entrance.

See also:

25 Apr 02 | Middle East
Timeline: Bethlehem siege
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Church with a turbulent history
21 Apr 02 | Middle East
Palestinians flee Bethlehem church
03 May 02 | Middle East
Q&A: Middle East peace conference
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