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Church of the Nativity deportees ask to be part of Hamas-Israel prisoner swap

Palestinian Christians gather at Church of the Nativity, which believed to be the birthplace of Jesus to attend Christmas ceremony in Bethlehem, West Bank, on December 24, 2019. [İssam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]
Palestinian Christians gather at Church of the Nativity, which believed to be the birthplace of Jesus to attend Christmas ceremony in Bethlehem, West Bank, on December 24, 2019. [İssam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

Palestinians who were besieged in the Church of the Nativity in 2002 and then deported to the Gaza Strip and other countries have asked to be included in any prisoner swap agreed between Hamas and Israel, Al-Ayyam newspaper reported on Sunday.

“The deportees are to hold a meeting to discuss the measures to be taken in case they have not been included in the ongoing discussions about a potential prisoner swap,” explained their spokesman Hatem Hammoud.

He requested that any agreement related to the return of the deportees should be unambiguous and clear, and laid particular stress on the fact that the deportation was a violation of international and humanitarian laws.

“As long as they were deported forcefully in violation of the principles of international and humanitarian laws,” Hammoud added, “they must be allowed to return to their families and homes as soon as possible.”

In 2002, the Palestinian Authority, international bodies and Israel reached a deal to deport 43 Palestinians who sought refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Thirty were sent to the Gaza Strip and the others were deported to Europe, supposedly for two years. Israel has since refused to allow them to return to their homes.

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