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Church of the Nativity

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The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The original structure was built by Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem at the direction of Constantine I of the Roman Empire following the First Council of Nicaea in 325. That structure was burnt down in the Samaritan revolt of 529.

It is administered by a coalition of Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clerics. Tradition has it that the church was built over Jesus' birthplace.

The church became famous briefly as the third millennium began, when armed Arab militants took it over. A standoff ensued starting on April 2, 2002 with Israeli military forces surrounding the building but honoring the request of Christian authorities to respect the church's neutrality.

Press reports were often unclear as to the status of civilians inside the compound, alternately saying that they were free to go or being held inside by either of the two sides (Arab militants and Israeli soldiers). Press reports indicated that the Israeli forces permitted unarmed civilians to leave but that they shot and killed one or more persons who upon leaving the church refused to submit to a weapons frisk.

Critics of the Israeli forces surrounding the compound said that their presence constituted a "siege" of the building. Supporters of the Israeli forces considered the term siege to be improperly applied, as it made the Israelis seem like the aggressors. These supporters considered the Arab militants inside the church to be the aggressors instead.

The 38-day stand-off came to an end on May 9 when the Palestinians inside agreed to have 13 suspected militants among them deported to several different countries.

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