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Nine Palestinian Children Leave Church of Nativity

Aired April 25, 2002 - 08:51   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We have to turn to some breaking news now from the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. We'll go right to Jonathan Vause who is looking at Manger Square with confirmation now that some eight Palestinians have walked out of the church carrying two bodies with them.

John, what is going on?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, Paula.

What we're being told is that it could have been nine Palestinians who have emerged from the church. This is the largest group of Palestinians to walk out of this standoff, now more than three weeks old. So there is a little confusion, whether it's eight or nine. We're told they are in fact teenagers.

We also have confirmation from a number of sources that those two dead bodies that have been inside the church for over a week now, they have also been brought out. There was an agreement here last night that they would in fact bring some of these children out, as many as 15. But what we're being told is that according to the Israeli Defense Forces, there could be as many as 50 children still inside the church, many of them teenagers, and of course some as young as 10 years old.

At this stage, we know there is at least eight, possibly nine Palestinian teenagers who have come out of the church, been taken away for questioning by the Israeli soldiers who surrounded the church, and we also know that the two dead bodies have also been removed -- Paula.

ZAHN: And is there any suggestion on the Israeli part that these kids could have in any way been involved with any violence in their past?

VAUSE: No suggestion of that coming from the Israelis, certainly not at this stage. What's happened is that these kids have been taken away, they're being questioned, and really the Israelis for their part have certainly narrowed down the number of people who they desperately want out of that church. It's gone from that list of 30 that we've been hearing for the last couple of weeks.

Now Palestinian sources tell CNN there could be in fact as few as five or six now that the Israelis are demanding. As far as these kids -- these teenagers rather, we don't if they're on that list of five or six, or even 30 that the Israelis have been asking for. They've just been taken away. This story is obviously still developing, still breaking. As soon as we find out, Paula, we'll let you know it.

ZAHN: Yes, and I know this information comes in little spurts, but is there any reporting yet on who -- when we talk about those two bodies have been removed, who these people might have been?

VAUSE: Well, we know they were Palestinian policemen, and there's some conjecture, once again, whether they were Palestinian policemen or Palestinian gunmen. We know one of these bodies is the body of a policeman who was shot by an Israeli sniper as he tried to put out a fire near one of the buildings. He's been in there for quite some time.

So once again, who these bodies are and what they are, it depends on who speak with, it's all about the devil in the details. As far as the Palestinians are concerned they're policemen. As far as the Israelis are concerned, they're gunmen. The truth, once again, is very subjective. It's all in the words of who you talk with.

CAFFERTY: An Israeli army spokesperson was quoted today as saying he's cautiously optimistic that things are better there today than they were yesterday, sort of suggesting that this impasse may come to the end. Have you heard anything new in that regard?

VAUSE: We're getting similar feedback from the people that we're regularly in contact with here both on the Palestinian side, as well as the Israeli side. It seems that there was some movement here last night. At least the Israelis were willing to compromise somewhat on that list of 30. That was seen as a very positive sign, a very positive development. So there is an air of optimism. These negotiations can turn so quickly, that it seems that this is the best offer which is now on the table. But there's one thing is these negotiations, they can end just as quickly as they can begin, Paula.

ZAHN: John Vause, thanks for that update, once again confirming that eight Palestinians, possibly nine, walk out the Church Of nativity. Along with them, two bodies who forces now believe could have been involved as Palestinian Authority policemen or gunmen. When we have more information available, we will bring it to you live.

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