IDF Briefing: Bethlehem Agreement to the End of Negotiations at the Church
IDF Spokesperson 9 May 2002
After 37 days, an agreement to solve the crisis at the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem has been achieved. The agreement's main points are as
" All the innocent people who were held hostage inside the church are now
free to leave.
" The 26 wanted people have been exiled to Palestinian Authority territory
in the Gaza Strip.
" All those exiled and the Palestinian Authority have personally committed
not to return to terror activity in the future. Those exiled were evacuated
from the Church of Nativity under supervision, were examined by IDF and
treated according to the agreement.
" The 13 wanted terrorists will stay within the church until a country that
agrees to receive them is found, at which point they will be immediately
" The IDF Spokesperson emphasizes that throughout the entire negotiations
the IDF was meticulous to preserve the sanctity of the church. Not a single
Israeli soldier entered the church premises and neither does the IDF have
any intent to enter the compound once it has been evacuated.
" We recall that at the beginning of the IDF operations in the town of
Bethlehem as part of operation "Defensive Shield", designated to strike at
the Palestinian Authority's terror infrastructure, many terrorists entered
and seized control over the Church of Nativity and over two hundred others
entered with them.
Since the very beginning of this dispute, the Israeli Security Forces
conducted negotiations in effort to liberate the innocent hostages inside
the church, and to return the church itself to its Legal owners, while using
all measures to preserve the respect and dignity of the location and the
IDF did this while insisting that all the involved in terror activity, who
seized control over the church, not be released freely and not participate
in terror activity in the future. It is important to make note that from the
very beginning of negotiations and up until today, 95 people were released
from the church.
The city of Bethlehem has become a hotbed of Palestinian terror. Palestinian
terrorist organizations have exploited churches and holy sites to conceal
wanted terrorists and weapons.
The current IDF security operation is intended to strike at the large-scale
Palestinian terrorist infrastructure in the city, to apprehend terrorists,
to prevent future terror attacks and hostile activities emanating from
Bethlehem against Israeli men, women and children.
This operation is intended to restore stability to the area.
To this aim the IDF Paratroop Brigade has been deployed in the Bethlehem
area and is operating to locate terrorist factories. These factories produce
explosives used by suicide bombers, weapons from small arms and machine guns
to mortar bombs.
The present operation was necessary given the recent serious escalation of
terror attacks emanating from Bethlehem. These attacks were carried out with
the full knowledge, tacit and active support of the Palestinian Authority.
A vast terror infrastructure functions in Bethlehem. This infrastructure
belongs to the Fatah (the "El-Aksa Brigades"), the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad
and the Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Palestinian terror organizations operating in Bethlehem also sow an
atmosphere of fear among Palestinians and especially the Christian
population. They have confiscated Christian properties and financial
resources. These organizations exploit the sanctity of the Christian holy
sites, using them as cover for firing on Israelis. They have transformed
these holy places into safe houses, knowing that the IDF refrains from
firing on these sites. This ambiance of terror has forced the Christian
population to leave Bethlehem and immigrate to other countries.
The IDF respects and honors all religions. IDF commanders have issued
specific orders to exercise utmost caution to protect the integrity and
sanctity of all holy places in Bethlehem, just as we do in other areas.
The current IDF operation is directed against terrorist infrastructure and
not against the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian terror organizations cooperate amongst themselves while
receiving assistance and guidance from the Palestinian security apparatus.
These organizations are responsible for dispatching suicide bombers into the
midst of Israel's population centers, for shooting attacks on Israeli
civilians and soldiers, and for machine-gun fire on Israeli neighborhoods.
Recent Palestinian Terror Attacks Emanating from Bethlehem
14 June 2001 - Murder of Lt. Col. Yehuda Edri. Mortar bombs fall on Gilo.
Shots fired on "Tunnel Road". The planting of numerous explosive devices.
18 February 2002 - A rigged car explodes on the Jerusalem - Ma'ale Adumim
highway near the El-Zi'am passage, exploded killing one Israeli and wounding
another. Fatah Bethlehem claimed responsibility.
25 Feb 2002 - Gunfire attack on the road between Nokdim and Teqoa'. Two
Israelis were killed and two more were wounded. The Fatah organization in
Bethlehem claimed responsibility for the attack.
2 March 2002 - A police officer is murdered, the Fatah organization in
Bethlehem claimed responsibility for the murder.
2 March 2002 - Suicide bomber in Jerusalem's ultra religious "Beit Israel"
neighborhood kills 10 Israelis and wounds 50. The Fatah in Bethlehem claimed
responsibility for the attack.
9 March 2002 - Suicide bomber in Jerusalem's Cafe "Cafe Moment" kills 11 and
The Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity in the heart of Bethlehem marks one of
Christianity's most sacred sites - the birthplace of Jesus.
Situated in the Manger Square 8 kilometers from Jerusalem, the church is
built over a grotto where the Virgin Mary is said to have given birth to
For centuries it was a place fought over by many. It was seized and defended
by a succession of armies including Crusader and Muslim forces.
It is controlled jointly by three Christian denominations: the Roman
Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Church.
The site has been venerated and honored by Christians since it was
identified in the second century to be the site of Jesus's birth.
The basilica was completed in 333 AD and attracts thousands of pilgrims from
around the world.
Speaking recently the current Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the head of
the Catholic Church in the region described the church's basilica as a
"place of refuge for everyone".
Chain of Events in Bethlehem
02.04.02 - The IDF operates in Bethlehem, during the day anti-tank missiles
were fired at IDF forces from the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem by terrorists
who were hiding there. Numerous explosive charges were detonated and there
were exchanges of fire in a number of sectors of Bethlehem.
03.04.02 - Terrorists take over the Santa Maria Church holding a priest and
a number of nuns against their will.
04.04.02 - Armed terrorists take over the Church of the Nativity. The IDF
enters into negotiations with the wanted terrorists.
05.04.02 - Four priests are rescued from the Church of the Nativity at the
IDF's initiative. They testify that the Church is under the control of a
band of armed terrorists who are holding hostages, among them Church staff,
inside the Church building. Among the occupiers of the Church are members of
the Palestinian Authority.
05.04.02 - The curfew is lifted from various neighborhoods of Bethlehem for
a few hours in order to allow the civilian population to get supplies.
06.04.02 - Five Church staff are evacuated from the Orthodox Church in
10.04.02 - Negotiations between the IDF and terrorists in the Church of the
Nativity take place in order to remove the body of a terrorist which was
inside the compound. The terrorists do not allow this. The IDF turns to the
Red Cross for assistance.
12.04.02 - Evacuation of a wounded and a priest from the Armenian living
12.04.02 - An explosives laboratory containing weapons, metal pellets, a few
gallons of TATP, and other warfare material is discovered. The laboratory is
destroyed by IDF forces.
13.04.02 - Delivery of goods and supplies into the city was allowed in order
to assist the Palestinian population.
13.04.02 - An IDF reserve officer was seriously wounded in an explosion of
suspicious gas tanks in Bethlehem.
14.04.02 - An armed Palestinian was hit by IDF fire and taken into the
Church of the Nativity compound. The Palestinians refused assistance in
evacuating the wounded man to hospital and he died. So far the armed
Palestinians barricaded in the Church of the Nativity refuse any
humanitarian aid offered by the IDF.
14.04.02 - The IDF provides medicine and supplies to the Franciscan priests
who are held in the Church of the Nativity. The IDF turns to the
International Committee of the Red Cross and requests the provision of
assistance to the wounded in the compound, but the Committee's
representatives adamantly refuse to enter the Church.
16.04.02 - Two Franciscan priests are evacuated from the Church.
17.04.02 - Two Palestinians left the Church compound and when they continued
to move toward IDF forces, and did not stop, they were fired upon. One
Palestinian was wounded and evacuated, the second returned into the
compound. In the evening a priest left the compound.
17.04.02 - A large pipe bomb was found in the Omar mosque, next to the
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, aimed at IDF forces.
19.04.02 - Khaled Ibrahim Tapesh, commander of the military wing of the
Hamas in Bethlehem, was arrested. Another Hamas operative was arrested in
21.04.02 - Five young men who were held in the Church were evacuated.
22.04.02 - Two Palestinians who claim to have taken cover in the Church are
23.04.02 - Two Armenian priests and a Palestinian employee of the Church
were evacuated from the Church compound.
24.04.02 - Three wounded and two sick men were evacuated from the Church of
25.04.02 - An IDF soldier was seriously wounded from Palestinian gunfire on
an IDF force near the Church of the Nativity. In addition nine youth and two
bodies were evacuated from the Church compound.
26.04.02 - Four Palestinians gave themselves up to IDF forces. In addition
two Tanzim operatives gave themselves up. The IDF supplied food to priests
inside the compound.
27.04.02 - One wounded and one sick man were evacuated from the Church of
the Nativity compound.
28.04.02 - Three Palestinians were evacuated, two of them wounded.
29.04.02 - Two Palestinians and a body were evacuated from the Church
30.04.02 - 26 civilians and Palestinian security personnel were evacuated
from the Church of the Nativity compound.
01.05.02 - Two Palestinians were evacuated from the Church compound.
02.05.02 - Two wounded and one body were evacuated from the Church.
03.05.02 - Four sick Palestinians were evacuated from the Church.
04.05.02 - A body was evacuated from the Church compound.