Gunmen stole gold, crucifixes, escaped monks report
By Margot Dudkevitch The Jerusalem Post April, 24 2002
Three Armenian monks, who had been held hostage by the Palestinian gunmen
inside the Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, managed to flee the church
area via a side gate yesterday morning. They immediately thanked the
soldiers for rescuing them.
They told army officers the gunmen had stolen gold and other property,
including crucifixes and prayer books, and had caused damage.
The three elderly monks were assisted by soldiers. One of them held a white
cloth banner with the words "Please help."
One of the monks, Narkiss Korasian, later told reporters: "They stole
everything, they opened the doors one by one and stole everything... they
stole our prayer books and four crosses... they didn't leave anything. Thank
you for your help, we will never forget it."
Israeli officials said the monks said the gunmen had also begun beating and
Chances of a breakthrough in the three-week standoff between the IDF and the
gunmen holding clergymen and Palestinian civilians hostage inside the church
took a more optimistic turn last night, following two meetings between
Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials.
Officials are expected to meet for the third time today, an Israeli security
official said last night, adding that the talks were conducted in a good
"The Palestinians insist Israel allow the gunmen to be transferred directly
to Gaza with an international escort; we insist they lay down their arms and
those found to be involved in terrorist activities go on trial in Israel or
be deported," he said.
PA officials who participated in the meetings included Imad Natshe, the
district coordinating officer; PA Minister of Tourism Mitre Abu Aita,
Bethlehem Mayor Hana Nasser, and Salah Ta'amri. Col. Marcel Aviv leads the
IDF negotiating team.
Last night, Nasser told The Jerusalem Post a third meeting would take place
this afternoon. The atmosphere in which the talks took place was good, he
said, but "frankly, there has been no progress. The Israelis are adamant
that the gunmen be deported. They don't know the exact number of the gunmen
and neither do we. However we insist that the gunmen be taken to Gaza
accompanied by a third party.
"If there are accusations against any of them, they can be formally made to
the PA court. We cannot agree to their being deported, as it violates the
Oslo Accords and sets a terrible precedent.
"We also asked Israel to improve the hygienic situation inside and restore
the power and water and food supplies," he said.
Yesterday was the first time that both sides met for direct talks on the
Of the scores of gunmen inside the church, security officials estimate there
are at least 20 fugitives affiliated with the Fatah Tanzim and Hamas.
Among them are Ibrahim Abayat, who has planned and organized terrorist
activities in the area, and Jihad Ja'ara who, according to witnesses, was
shot in the leg when he and the other gunmen commandeered the church.
Israel has stressed that all those who leave the church and are proven not
to have been involved in terrorism will be free to return to their homes.
According to reports from those who fled the compound in recent days, there
is growing dissent among the gunmen. Food and water supplies are dwindling,
and the pressure is mounting, Israeli officials said. Throughout the past
weeks, the IDF has given food and medication to the clergy held hostage
inside; the other Palestinians held hostage by the gunmen receive water and