On the Ground in the West Bank
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TRISTANA MOORE: This was the scene just around the corner from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem this morning.
SOLDIER: Continue back. Continue back, please. And be careful. Don’t walk backwards. You’ll step on something and blow up.
TRISTANA MOORE: Several hundred Palestinians, mostly armed, have been taking refuge in the church, surrounded by Israeli troops. All morning there were fierce gun battles.
There were claims today that some Israeli soldiers tried to smash their way into the church, but the Israeli army has denied that report. We walked through Bethlehem this morning. The streets were eerily quiet, apart from the occasional burst of gunfire. The Israeli government says this is part of its campaign to crack down on Palestinian militants.
Well, this is as far as we’re going to go, because we’re being told that Israeli soldiers are positioned on rooftops behind me up towards Manger Square. At Bethlehem’s Lutheran church, Israeli soldiers tell a priest to go indoors. No one is safe from the fighting here. Residents told us they were too frightened to leave their homes.
HIND BANDAK: It’s terrible, you know? We heard a lot of bombs, and they are around… around the hotel– jeeps and tanks. So terrible, we are all… we spent all the day here downstairs in the hotel. But I’ve heard they shoot everything that’s moving. Many innocent people, they walked outside to have bread and something… they don’t have their… shoot at them.
TRISTANA MOORE: On our way out of Bethlehem, we came across a group of Israeli soldiers carrying out house-to-house searches. At the hospital, the injured are brought in, as well as a woman in labor who was trapped inside Manger Square.
TRISTANA MOORE: How many more injured are there?
GRAHAM LEMAN, International Red Cross: How many more? I don’t know. We… again, every time we come back, we have more requests, so I can’t give you an accurate figure.
TRISTANA MOORE: What’s the situation like up the road?
GRAHAM LEMAN: It’s very tense.
TRISTANA MOORE: Stepping into this crisis, a European Union delegation headed by the foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. He came to Israel today to push for a cease-fire. A meeting with the Israeli foreign minister went ahead as planned, but Solana wasn’t allowed to meet the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who’s still trapped inside his headquarters in Ramallah. Ariel Sharon, meeting soldiers at an army base today, still insisting that Arafat will remain isolated.
PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON, Israel: He will stay in the place where he is there, and he will be isolated. It’s about our operation. The target, or the goal of the operation that we are having now, conducting now, is to uproot the terrorist activity within the areas, which are under control of the Palestinian authority.
TRISTANA MOORE: The Israeli operation is getting bigger. This afternoon, Israeli tanks entered Hebron, another city in the West Bank; Israel claiming, though, it is not reoccupying Palestinian-controlled areas, but uprooting what it calls the Palestinian terror infrastructure. But the Palestinians are accusing the Israelis of savage aggression.