Foreigners evacuated from besieged Bethlehem

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The Independent Online

A convoy of armoured vehicles evacuated five Italian journalists and a group of other foreigners – including Americans and Britons – from the besieged biblical town of Bethlehem yesterday.

A convoy of armoured vehicles evacuated five Italian journalists and a group of other foreigners – including Americans and Britons – from the besieged biblical town of Bethlehem yesterday.

The Italian journalists and an Armenian colleague were with dozens of Palestinian gunmen who sought refuge in a compound that belongs to the Church of the Nativity, built over the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinians shot their way into the church on Tuesday after Israeli tanks and troops invaded Bethlehem. The town has become a target of Israel's six-day offensive against militants in the West Bank.

One of the Italian journalists, a correspondent for RAI television, Marc Innaro, said there were about 300 gunmen inside the church compound, along with some civilians seeking refuge from the fighting.

"They were very determined, not nervous, tired also, but not willing at all to surrender," Mr Innaro said, adding that a convoy of armoured vehicles from the Italian embassy, escorted by the Israeli army, evacuated the journalists from Bethlehem.

The other foreigners were at the Bethlehem Star Hotel, near Manger Square, the town's main plaza. US federal police and other security officials evacuated them in a five-vehicle convoy, witnesses said. The names of the 15 or so evacuees – including Americans and Britons – were not immediately available.

Wearing flak jackets and carrying sidearms, the American officers rushed into the hotel and used a loudspeaker to call the foreigners to come out. They had a list of the people they had decided to evacuate, witnesses said.

Among those taken out was Kunle Ibidun, 30, from Bristol, who was injured in a demonstration two days ago. The same day, Mr Ibidun found out that his father had died of a stroke in England, and he has been trying to get out of Bethlehem since then, Sean Riordan, an American in Bethlehem, said. (AP)

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