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Into the Heart of the Church Siege

June 13, 2002|SCOTT SANDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The five-week siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that ended May 10 was more than a standoff between the Israeli army and the Palestinians inside. Behind the scenes, another clash simmered, between Israel's chief negotiator and the prevailing political winds.

Tonight's "Frontline" (8 p.m., KCET; 10 p.m., KVCR) examines the inner workings of both conflicts, following the charismatic negotiator (identified here as Lt. Col. Lior) and his team as they try to isolate cornered terror suspects by encouraging those Palestinians not on the Israeli wanted list to leave the church.

The show is a fascinating window into what happened in the siege's final three weeks, combining tapes from inside the church with exclusive footage of operations in Manger Square after other media had been banished.

In contrast with much of the TV coverage at the time, director Dimitri Doganis and crew reveal what it was like for those on the scene.

"If you create a political crisis, you will never find a solution," Lior says, explaining his approach to the siege, which ended through a U.S.-brokered deal that was essentially the same as the one his team had set up. "If the crisis is between people, between two troops, you can find a solution."

As it did in early April with a program about Palestinian suicide bombings, "Frontline" again brings viewers into the heart of the Mideast hostilities.

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