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Posted: 4/24/2002 10:42:13 AM EDT
from: [url]http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/24/international/middleeast/24BETH.html[/url] BETHLEHEM, West Bank, April 23 — At an upper-story window of an unfinished building here today, Sgt. Stephane Doré peered through the telescopic sight of his sniper rifle at the Church of the Nativity. A sharpshooter in the Israeli Army reserves, Sergeant Doré was waiting to pick off any armed Palestinian who might emerge in or around the church compound. He said he had shot two during the three-week standoff at the church. "I saw them fall the minute we fired at them, and I saw their friends drag them away," he recalled, his finger poised near the trigger. Snipers like Sergeant Doré are a crucial part of the Israeli Army's siege of the church, where more than 200 Palestinians, dozens of them armed, have been holed up since April 2, when Israeli forces reoccupied Bethlehem. Aside from brief breaks when residents are allowed out to buy food, Israeli troops in tanks and armored personnel carriers are enforcing a round-the-clock curfew on the city of 100,000 until the stalemate at the church is resolved. Israel wants to bring suspected militants in the church compound to trial, but they have so far refused to surrender and leave the building revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus. As the first negotiations to end the standoff took place today, a white blimp carrying a camera floated overheard, sending pictures to a screen watched by border policemen one floor under Sergeant Doré. Occasionally, one of the officers moved a joystick on a control console to scan the church complex or zoom in on a particular building, checking if any Palestinians had gone outside. "They're testing us," the reservist sniper said of the Palestinian movements. Behind him, peering through powerful binoculars, stood Olivier Bettan, the post commander. A shot rang out, followed a little later by a short burst of gunfire. Sergeant Doré began scanning the area through his sniper scope, searching for the shooters. A short while later, a group of men were spotted in the church compound, and the reservist told a fellow sniper to get ready. A voice crackled over the radio set: "Five men in the inner courtyard behind the building. Do you see it over there?" The commander replied, "Negative," and the snipers held fire. "This can happen every half hour," the post commander said. "It's a game of cat and mouse. They're under pressure now. It's been a month and they don't have anything to eat."
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