Ramallah Morgue Overflows -
Israelis Take Bethlehem


BETHLEHEM (AFP) - Israeli forces took over the biblical city of Bethlehem in their drive against Palestinian towns on the West Bank, killing five people in the latest fighting and bombarding the headquarters of the regional security chief.
Elsewhere on the West Bank, Ramallah central hospital said it had started burying corpses in its parking lot after the town's morgue overflowed under the death toll of Israel's five-day-old invasion and ambulances were unable to reach the cemetery.
Israeli forces fired on several churches in Bethlehem on Tuesday, church officials said, adding that a priest previously reportedly slain was alive.
Father Raed Awad, secretary to the patriarch of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem, also said some nuns might have been injured as Israeli tanks took over the city. But he could not confirm previous reports that seven had been shot.
"A Lutheran church was hit and a shell entered the office of the pastor," he told AFP.
Hospital sources said earlier that Israeli forces had fired on two churches in Bethlehem on Tuesday, killing a priest and wounding at least seven nuns.
Also caught up in the turmoil of the operation launched two days after Easter was Bethlehem's main Omar mosque which caught fire late Tuesday for undetermined reasons, an AFP journalist said.
Around 150 people, 20 of them wounded, were stranded inside the Church of the Nativity in central Bethlehem after taking shelter from Israeli gunfire, Palestinian witnesses said.
Israeli forces Tuesday killed three Palestinian militants and a teenage bystander in a shootout in Bethlehem, Palestinian security sources said.
The Israelis also shot dead another Palestinian man as he was driving his car in the town of Hebron to the south, the sources said.
They said three members of the Al Aqsa Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, were gunned down in a firefight in Bethlehem's market.
A 15-year-old boy caught in the crossfire was also killed, the sources said.
And a Palestinian militant was killed by soldiers near the Erez crossing point between the northern Gaza Strip and Israel late Tuesday.
Bethlehem was the fifth town taken as Israeli troops swept the West Bank hunting for Palestinian militants after laying siege to Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah on Friday.
Mussa Abu Hmed, head of West Bank hospital services, said Ramallah hospital morgue's capacity of 18 bodies had been overflowing since Sunday.
Adding to the soaring death toll, a Palestinian woman was shot dead by Israeli forces as she left the hospital after receiving treatment, medical sources said.

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