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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 22:39 GMT 23:39 UK
Britons rescued from Bethlehem
Palestinians carry a body to hospital in Bethlehem
The casualties in Bethlehem are mounting
British peace protesters have been rescued from war-torn Bethlehem in two diplomatic operations.

Activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) were caught up in the escalating violence and effectively trapped in a hotel in the closed military zone.

British consul officials managed to negotiate the escape of seven, including comedian and writer Jeremy Hardy, in armoured vehicles.

And later on Wednesday, reports suggested another four were taken safely out of the Bethlehem Star hotel by American security agents.

People are scurrying right now because they are pointing guns at our heads

Mortaza Sahibzada

The hotel is near the centre of the West Bank city, and one of the Britons earlier told BBC News Online the building was shot at by Israeli gunmen.

A number of other Britons from ISM have chosen to stay behind in Bethlehem.

Armoured cars sent on Tuesday to get the Britons out were not given permission to enter the besieged town and were turned away.

But at 1730 GMT (1830 BST) on Wednesday, British diplomats were able to get into Bethlehem and take the Britons through the checkpoints to Jerusalem.

The seven included two who suffered minor injuries on Monday when they were fired on by Israeli soldiers during a peace march.

Gun battles

They have been named as Kunle Ibidun, from Glasgow but living in Bristol, and Chris Dunham from London.

Mr Ibidun was particularly desperate to fly home for his father's funeral.

But a third man injured on Monday, James Budd from Ipswich, chose to stay behind.

One of the Britons trapped in the hotel was Mortaza Sahibzada, a 33-year-old research fellow from the University of London.
Bethlehem
Israeli troops are occupying Bethlehem

Speaking from the hotel earlier on Wednesday, he told BBC News Online about the terrifying ordeal just 500m from Manger Square, where Palestinian gunmen have sought sanctuary in churches.

All the activists were camped out in the lobby looking out the glass front door at Israeli soldiers aiming their weapons at the protesters.

Mr Sahibzada said. "This is crazy! People are scurrying right now because they are pointing guns at our heads.

"We've already had the hotel shot at once."

Escape

The American-led rescue mission took nine Americans, four Britons and one female Japanese student out of the city.

The student, Aisa Kiusosue, studies at Bradford University and was shot in the foot during Monday's peace march.

The Israel defence forces gave both operations approval and safe passage.

Meanwhile, three British students have escaped the embattled town of Ramallah and fled to Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon sent in the Israeli army
The three female students were among a group from Sussex University which became trapped in the West Bank, under orders not to venture outside.

They were on a trip organised by the student union's Palestinian Solidarity Society, and were visiting clinics, checkpoints and refugee camps.

Dr Ghada Karmi, the mother of one of the trio, Salma Karmi, said: "I was terribly worried, dreadfully, dreadfully worried about her but also very proud.

"The reality is, they're doing more than the British Government."

Ramallah is the scene of gun battles near Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound.

Before the two rescue missions, the Foreign Office confirmed there were at least 40 Britons in total in Bethlehem and 50 in Ramallah.

Many of those are people of dual nationality or people who live in those towns.

See also:

03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem Britons tell of fear
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem church under siege
02 Apr 02 | England
Protester 'desperate' to get home
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Britons acting as 'human shields'
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