Briefing: Lt. Col. Sharon Levi, Commander DCO

We are presently in the third day of fighting. The operation has two main goals:

1. To push the terrorists south.
2. To capture as many terrorists as possible.

Most of the terrorists escaped from the Bet Jallah area into which we had entered three days ago in order to stop the shooting at Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem. An armed conflict did not take place at the beginning of our entry into Bethlehem, but there were many charges. We tried to get to the churches’ area since we knew ahead of time that the terrorists would attempt to hide in those churches. They have chosen to fire at Gilo from the churches in order to force us to shoot at holy places. The guidelines are clear about that: shooting at churches, mosques and hospitals is strictly prohibited, even if the terrorists shoot at us. We arrested 136 locals and released 56 of them. We seized hundreds of weapons, explosive belts, and machine guns, some of them in Arafat’s official residence. One of our soldiers was killed before the combat began; 26 of our soldiers were injured.

Question: What is going on in Dehaishe?

Answer: Dehaishe is surrounded, but our forces are not active in this area at present. Out of the 1300 arrests we had made, only 70 are still detained, and the rest were released on the same day.

Colonel Marsel Aviv: I wish to address three main issues: four priests have left the church today at noon following negotiations with the Palestinians. The negotiations include not only talks with those who are inside. According to the priests who got out, they were held there forcibly against their will. This is the fourth day we are encircling the church complex and the second day of negotiations with all parties.
The terrorists who are in the church include not only those who took hostages, but also four PA officials:
” Muhammad ElMaa`dni. It is amazing that PA officials are in close contact with terrorists who took hostages.
” Magdi ElAtri, aka Abu Jihad – the commander of the Preventive Security Service of Gibril Rajub.
” Abd`allah Daud, aka Abu Kasem from the General Intelligence Agency of the Authority in Bethlehem.
” Anthony Salman.

We expect these people to cooperate with us in order to rescue the hostages. I would like to emphasize that this is a military operation, and therefore you are being briefed by an army spokesperson and not by a civilian. Our goal is to complete this operation by having all persons outside with no weapons and without having to harm the holy place. We have sufficient time and the required means in order to complete this operation.

Questions:

Channel One: Is there any evidence that the priests inside the church were injured?

Answer: We have no evidence of that, but the priests feel threatened and therefore cannot speak freely. We have talked with the four priests that came out and they said that the armed terrorists entered forcibly and took over the church. Some of them were from the Tanzim and from the PA.

Question: Were the Italians who were released yesterday held as prisoners?
Answer: No.

Question: How did the priests get out of the church?
Answer: We helped them out, but we cannot elaborate on that.

Question: What are you facing? What kind of weapons do the terrorists have?
Answer: Mostly explosive devices, light firearms, and sniper weapons. We do not know for certain. We offered to send them physicians and provide them with medicine but they declined our offer.

Question: Did you provide them with food?
Answer: They did not ask for food.

Question: Did they shoot at you from within the church?
Answer: No

Question: Not at all, or only yesterday?
Answer: Not yesterday.

Question: What’s going on inside?
Answer: We know that the clergymen are not being let out of the church, but we don’t know for sure what’s going on inside. All the priests that are inside live in Bethlehem and are known to the Palestinians and therefore are not threatened, only prevented from going out.

Question: There are rumors that civilians are afraid to go out of their homes because they fear you will shoot at them.
A: We shoot any armed person who is on the streets. The explosions that are scaring the locals are those of the Palestinians, which are exploding on the streets.

Q: What happened to Samir Salman, the church’s bell wringer?
A: He came out during the combat shouting and screaming. We ordered him to stop; we shot warning shots in the air but he did not halt, so we aimed at his legs but he was killed. This is indeed a tragedy but we are living in an time where suicide bombers attack us and we can’t take any chances. We tried to prevent it and we apologize for our mistake.

Q: How many explosive charges have you found and were they trapped?
A: On my way from here to the church I came across more than ten.

Q: How many terrorists were found in the city?

A: 2000 armed terrorists and 1000 armed Palestinian Policemen. Most of the policemen did not take part in the combat, but those who did are the ones from the General Intelligence Agency whose commanders are currently in the church. That is why we have not taken action against the Palestinian Policemen. Most of the armed terrorists who were in the city are associated with Hammas and Tanzim. So far we have found 19 buildings full of combat equipment. These are residential buildings and not military zones. The operation was necessary. First we entered Bet Gallah and fired only at those who fired at us. When they ceased fire, so did we. The firing regulations were so strict that the soldiers complained that we were sending them to the battle with no means to act. We had an agreement regarding a cease-fire four times, we entered Beth Jallah and it was decided that we would get out of there and that they would prevent the suicide bombing, but they did not do so.

Q: Are there any Palestinian suspects inside the church?
A: Yes, we do know of some who are inside the church.

The IDF Spokesperson released for publication the name of the soldier killed during IDF activity in the Jenin refugee camp yesterday evening. He is 20 year-old Corporal Oded Kornfein from Kibbutz HaOn. In that same incident, 21 year-old Sgt.Roy Tal from Ma’alot-Tarshicha was also killed and another soldier seriously wounded. The wounded were evacuated to a hospital where they received medical care. The families of the soldiers in question were notified.