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After 14 years in Gaza, Nativity Church deportees ask to return to Bethlehem

May 10, 2016 3:37 P.M. (Updated: May 10, 2016 10:06 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- A group of Palestinians deported to the Gaza Strip following the 2002 siege on the Nativity Church in Bethlehem rallied outside UN offices on Tuesday, commemorating their 14th year in exile as they urged the international organization to help them return to their homes in Bethlehem.

“For how long will this suffering continue?” Muayyad al-Janazreh, one of the 26 “Nativity Church deportees,” said to reporters during the rally.

Citing the “indifference” of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to their plight, Janazreh reprimanded the PA for their failure to appoint an official body to manage their cases in order for them to reunite with their families in the occupied West Bank.

Janazreh also urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to work on ending the suffering of all Palestinians who were deported to the Gaza Strip and to European countries following the 40-day siege on the church.

The deportees, many of whom have been estranged from their families since the deportation, urged the PA’s Civil Affairs Minister, Hussein al-Sheikh, to help their relatives obtain permits to visit them in Gaza.

The deportees then handed a letter to UN officials, requesting that it be delivered to UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Around 220 locals, including several dozen resistance fighters and 40 priests and nuns, sought sanctuary inside the church on April 2, 2002 when Israeli tanks surrounded Bethlehem.

The siege on the site believed to be Jesus' birthplace sparked outrage in the Vatican, as monks sheltering inside pleaded for international assistance.

The Israeli military shocked the world by responding with attacks on the ancient holy place that left eight Palestinians dead and 27 injured.

The siege came to an end on May 10, when the Israelis struck a deal with Palestinian leaders that ultimately saw 39 Palestinians who had sought sanctuary in the church exiled to Gaza and Europe.

Over the past 14 years, the deportees have appealed to the PA, Palestinian president, international community, and other organizations to convince Israel to allow them back to the West Bank, where their families remain.
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