BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- Israel and the Palestinians say they have a deal to end the confrontation at the Church of the Nativity, but with Italy refusing to accept 13 Palestinian militants who have agreed to go into exile, the 5-week-old standoff dragged on Wednesday.
The tentative agreement was also imperiled by a Palestinian suicide attack near Tel Aviv on Tuesday night. The attack ratcheted up tensions and raised the prospect that Israel may again send troops into Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
However, Joel Lion, spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, said both sides were still committed to the agreement.
The two sides appeared set to resolve the crisis Tuesday when they agreed to deport 13 Palestinian gunmen in the church to Italy and transport 26 others to the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. The rest of the Palestinians in the church, numbering more than 80 policemen and civilians, would go free.
However, the low-slung door to the stone church remained closed as Italy said that it had been kept in the dark during most of the negotiations. Italian officials said it was unlikely they would agree to accept the Palestinians.
One of the top wanted men inside the church, Abdullah Daoud, said he and the 12 others had reluctantly agreed to exile in Italy and were annoyed by the delay.
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