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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 21:57 GMT 22:57 UK
Breakthrough 'soon' in Bethlehem siege
An Israeli sniper aims his gun towards the scene of an explosion at a house near Manger Square in Bethlehem
The army said it had found a bomb factory in Bethlehem
British and American diplomats have arrived at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where they were trying to help resolve the siege of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers.

The diplomats have been given a list of more than 120 Palestinians who took shelter in the church more than a month ago.

There have been suggestions that about 10 Palestinian militants among those inside, whose surrender Israel has been demanding, may be exiled to Jordan.

Earlier on Saturday, Israel said it had shot dead a "highly wanted terrorist" in the Church of the Nativity, and that troops had uncovered a suspected bomb-making factory nearby.

In the Gaza Strip, at least one Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops.

Forces also went into the West Bank town of Tulkarm for the second time in two days, Palestinian sources said.


A resolution of the church siege would have to be very swift for Orthodox Christians to be able to celebrate their Easter Sunday in the holy site.

The Palestinians have been besieged in the church since the Israeli incursion into Bethlehem on 2 April.

Greek Orthodox worshippers walk with candles lit from the holy fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
The progress in Bethlehem comes on the eve of Orthodox Easter
Earlier on Saturday, Israel said it had fired on an armed Palestinian moving between buildings in the church compound.

The army said Halaf Nazjazeh was a wanted member of the Tanzim militant group.

The army also said it had discovered a bomb-making factory following an explosion at a medical centre near the church.

There were reports that a teenage boy playing with a device set off the blast.

The army said soldiers searching an apartment about 200 metres (650 feet) from the church found a large amount of explosives.

Palestinians killed

Violence also erupted in the West Bank and Gaza on Saturday after an overnight lull.

In Gaza, a Palestinian security officer, identified by Palestinian sources as 25-year-old Ramzi Eid, was shot dead by Israeli troops.

Palestinian witnesses said Eid was shot dead after Israeli troops went into the Khan Younis refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Israeli military sources said they knew nothing about an alleged incursion but said soldiers had killed a Palestinian who had tried to infiltrate a nearby Jewish settlement.

Tanks and troops moved into the West Bank town of Tulkarm for several hours early on Saturday, according to Palestinian witnesses.

They said soldiers searched houses before withdrawing and did not make any arrests.

Mid-East summit

Israel radio reported on Saturday that a US-backed Middle East peace conference would take place in Turkey.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon will discuss the conference with Bush on Tuesday
US officials have suggested that the summit, involving Israel and moderate Arab states, would be held in June.

Israeli officials said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will seek more details about the conference when he meets President George W Bush at the White House on Tuesday.

Aides to Mr Sharon said the prime minister would present his own plans for a long-term interim deal with the Palestinians.

The Palestinian cabinet, which met for the first time in a month on Friday, welcomed the proposed conference and said it was committed to a full Israeli withdrawal "from all Arab and Palestinian lands".

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Still no peace in the biblical town"
The BBC's Claire Marshall reports from Bethlehem
"Negotiations are moving forward very quickly"
See also:

04 May 02 | Middle East
Arafat faces calls for reform
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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