Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has agreed to a Palestinian request for senior terrorist leaders expelled to Europe after seizing Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in 2002 to return to Bethlehem, a top Palestinian negotiator told WND.
The terrorists, members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah militias, long have been accused of engaging in campaigns against Bethlehem’s Christian population. The terrorists are accused of carrying out and planning multiple attacks, including suicide bombings and deadly shootings.
Olmert is strongly considering allowing the terrorists to return as a gesture toward Abbas following last month’s U.S.-backed Annapolis summit, the Palestinian negotiator said. At Annapolis, Olmert committed to aim at concluding an agreement with the Palestinians by the end of next year in which Israel is widely expected to evacuate the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem.
Mark Regev, Olmert’s spokesman, said he could not confirm the report the Nativity terrorists could return, but he also refused to deny the information.
In 2002, members of Jaara’s group and other terror organizations holed up inside the Church of the Nativity while fleeing a massive Israeli anti-terror operation. Israel surrounded the church area but refused to storm the structure. Gunmen inside included wanted senior Hamas, Tanzim and Brigades terrorists reportedly involved in suicide bombings and shooting attacks. More than 200 nuns and priests were trapped in the church after Israeli hostage negotiators failed to secure their release.
The siege ended after 39 days when mediators agreed the 13 most senior terrorists would be deported to European countries, 26 more junior terrorists would be transported to the Gaza Strip and the remaining gunmen would be freed.
The Nativity church, one of the most sacred sites in Christianity, is the believed birthplace of Jesus.
In August, Israeli media and WND reported Olmert agreed to eventually allow the 26 terrorists in Gaza to return to the West Bank.
According to the senior Palestinian negotiator speaking to WND today, Olmert has also agreed to allow the 13 senior terror leaders in Europe to return to the Palestinian areas; first the terrorists will reside in the Gaza Strip and eventually be allowed to reintegrate into the West Bank, the negotiator said.
One of the 13 exiled terrorists, speaking to WND on condition of anonymity, confirmed he received a call from the PA informing him he would soon be allowed to return to Gaza.
According to media reports, the terrorists holed up inside the Nativity church left the holy site in shambles.
Four Greek monks told the Washington Times the Palestinian gunmen holed up with them seized church stockpiles of food and “ate like greedy monsters” until the food ran out, while the trapped civilians went hungry. The terrorists also were accused of guzzling beer, wine and Johnny Walker scotch that they found in the priests’ quarters.
A Roman Catholic priest told the Times some Bibles were torn up and used as toilet paper, and many valuable sacramental objects were removed.
The senior Nativity terrorists exiled to Europe who may return include:
Jihad Jaara: Served as chief of the Al Aqsa martyrs Brigades terror group in Bethlehem. The Brigades, Fatah’s declared military wing, took responsibility for scores of suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks. Jaara is accused of planning multiple bombings and has boasted to WND about sending a suicide bomber to Jerusalem’s Malcha Mall, the city’s largest shopping center. That bombing was foiled when the bomber’s explosive belt detonated prematurely.
Ibrahim Moussa Salem Abayat: Abayat was born in 1973 and served as the chief of the Fatah Tanzim terrorist organization in Bethlehem. He boasted about orchestrating and participating in shooting and mortar attacks on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and on Jewish-used Bethlehem bypass roads.
According to Israeli security officials, Abayat was involved in the following deadly terror attacks: Sept. 20, 2001, shooting attack on an Israeli vehicle near Tekoa in which Israeli Sarit Amrani was murdered; July 16, 2001, detonation of an explosive charge on the Beit Safafa-Talpiot bridge inside Jerusalem; Jan. 15, 2002, abduction and murder of Avi Boaz, a U.S. citizen residing in Israel. Feb, 18, 2002, detonation of a car bomb at the Zaim checkpoint, resulting in the death of an Israeli policeman; Feb. 25, 2002, shooting attack at an Israeli vehicle close to the Tekoa junction in which Israelis Avraham Fisch and Aharon Gorov of Nokdim were killed and Tamar Lipschitz, in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was wounded; March 2, 2002, shooting attack at a vehicle south of Jerusalem, in which dental technician Devorah Friedman, mother of four, was murdered; June 14, 2002, murder of Israeli intelligence officer Yehuda Edri.
Ibrahim Mohammed Salem Abayat: Abayat, born in 1961, was an operative of both the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. Israeli security officials tell WND Abayat’s apartment was used to make bombs. They said he financed terrorist shootings and planned attacks against civilians in Jerusalem. Abayat also was personally involved in shooting at Gilo and at the IDF in Bethlehem.
Abdullah Daoud Mohammed Abdullah Khader: Daoud, born in 1962, served as the head of the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence apparatus in the West Bank city of Nablus and as a senior Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader. He is accused of providing assistance and instructions to senior Fatah Tanzim operatives. He operated a terrorist cell in Nablus and took part in several attacks, including a Feb. 25, 2002, attack in which two men were murdered and a pregnant woman was severely wounded.
Mohammed Said Atallah Salem: Salem, born in 1979, was a senior Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander. Israel says he was directly involved in the following attacks: January 26, 2002, dispatch of a suicide bomber to the Talpiot neighborhood in Jerusalem; Feb.18, 2002, detonation of a car bomb by a suicide bomber on a Maale Adumim road, killing an Israeli policeman; March 2, 2002, suicide bombing in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood of Jerusalem killing 11 Israelis, among them four children, and wounding dozens more; and the March 29, 2002, suicide bombing of a supermarket in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel in which an Israeli security guard and a teenage Israeli girl were killed in the attack and about 12 more were wounded.
Mohammed Fouzi Mohammed Muhaneh: Muhaneh, born in 1980, was an Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorist. He served as a member of Fatah’s Special Forces and received U.S. training. Muhaneh has been involved in numerous attempts to carry out terrorist attacks in the Bethlehem area, which have included shooting and mortar attacks at military and civilian targets. Israel says Muhaneh used his U.S. training to provide members of his terrorist cell with personal training and instruction in the use of firearms and taught them how to produce and use pipe bomb attacks.
Rami Kamel Eid Kamel: Kamel, a resident of Bethlehem, was born in 1980, and, according to Israel, was one of the primary Al Aqsa Brigades terrorists behind shooting attacks and mortar fire directed against civilian residents of southern Jerusalem. He carried out systematic sniper and mortar attacks against Gilo as well as shooting attacks against Israeli civilian and military vehicles on the Bethlehem bypass roads. Kamel took part in the murder of an IDF truck driver, Sgt. Max Hazan, Oct.2, 2000, at point-blank range and was personally involved in a Feb. 11, 2001, shooting attack against an Israeli civilian vehicle south of Gilo in which Israeli civilian Tzachi Sasson was murdered.
Khaled Mohammed Abd el Hamid Abu Najimeh: Abu Najimeh, born in 1968, was a Brigades leader based in Bethlehem responsible for a number of fatal terrorist attacks, including a Jerusalem suicide bombing that killed an Israeli woman. He dispatched two suicide bombers to attack an Israeli soccer game, but the terrorists detonated their charged before reaching their objective.
Annan Mohammed Hamis Tanjeh: Tanjeh, born in 1978, was a Bethlehem-based Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades leader responsible for carrying out shooting attacks against a Jerusalem tunnel route, against Gilo and IDF forces around Bethlehem.
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