May 7, 2002

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK, May 7 (Xinhua)--Palestinian officials confirmed Tuesday that the standoff at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity is over.

One of the Israeli tanks withdrew from the church, while Israeli military personnel put up mental detectors on Manger Square outside the church to check the trapped Palestinians.

Under the U.S. and EU-brokered agreement, 13 Palestinians, most wanted by Israel, will be sent into exile to Italy, 26 others transferred to a Gaza prison and the rest of the more than 100 people set free.

After twists and turns, the two sides are ending the 36-day crisis while a meeting is set in Washington between President Bush and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Bush is expected to persuade Sharon to accept peace talks with Palestinians under Yasser Arafat, who demand a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank before resumption of negotiations.

The lifting of the siege on the church clears the way for complete Israeli withdrawal and for both sides to return to the negotiation table.

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