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Bethlehem Scarred by 10 Days of Fighting - 2001-10-29


Israeli tanks, armored personnel vehicles, and troops have pulled out of Bethlehem, leaving behind a West Bank city deeply scarred from 10 days of fierce fighting.

Soldiers drove their tanks up ramps onto large flatbed trucks and rolled them out of the biblical city of Bethlehem, 10 days after launching the raid that followed the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister.

Nativity Street, which leads to Manger Square and the traditional birthplace of Jesus, looks like a war zone.

The Paradise Hotel has been gutted by fire, signs to the Nativity Church are riddled with bullets and thousands of holes from tank shells and heavy machine guns pockmark buildings on both sides of the street.

Ahmed Azzeh, 40, lives on Nativity Street with his mother, wife, and five children. He stands in the middle of his bedroom, which is littered with broken glass and debris from the shelling. "Immediately when the Israelis came here they occupied the Paradise Hotel. So as a result of that, they started shelling everything, all the buildings, even though there was no shooting here," he said.

Along Nativity Street, Israeli tanks blasted shops and restaurants. Palestinian officials say 24 people died and at least 150 were injured during the incursion.

Majid Halabi, who owns the Bedouin Gift Shop on Nativity Street, says in 13 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, he has seen more tanks than tourists in Bethlehem.

"It is a very difficult life. They treat us like animals. You know, here it is very difficult to live, and also many people killed, many people injured without reason. They are shooting houses; they destroyed houses; they destroyed shops, and this is the life, our life," he said.

At the Holy Family Children's Home, an orphanage for about 50 young children in Bethlehem, bullet holes have damaged the facade of the building.

Flavia Andon, a social worker at the orphanage, says the children are suffering emotional scars from the intense fighting. "They do not go anywhere alone. The nannies, they have to accompany the children everywhere they go. The fear is higher now. During the night they do not sleep," said the social worker.

There are some signs the people of Bethlehem are trying to return to normal. Children in uniforms have begun returning to school, municipal workers are beginning to cleanup the roads, and Palestinian policemen are patrolling the streets.

Bethlehem officials estimate the Israeli incursion caused up to $17 million damage, and left a legacy of bitterness in the birthplace of Christianity.

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