Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is expected to meet with Palestinian Minister of Interior Nasser Yousef today in an attempt to iron out differences over the transfer of Bethlehem to Palestinian security control.

Differences arose in a meeting on Monday between army commanders and Palestinian security officers.

Palestinians at Monday’s meeting demanded that security control of Bethlehem be expanded to include a number of villages south of the city and that Palestinian Authority policemen in the city be permitted to carry two weapons. Israeli officers rejected those demands.

A Palestinian official source said following the Monday meeting that if Israel stays adamant in rejecting Palestinian demands, the handover of Bethlehem will pass unnoticed. 

Israel has also put on hold plans to transfer that city of Qalqylia to PA control.

On June 23, Mofaz instructed the army to prepare for the handover first of Bethlehem and later Qalqylia to PA security control.

In addition, Israeli declared that plans to allow the return of 39 Palestinian deportees to the city of Bethlehem are still waiting for Mofaz’s approval.

 The 39 were exiled to Europe and the Gaza Strip as part of a deal to end the standoff in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in May 2002.

In February, Mofaz announced that once the Palestinians received security control of Bethlehem, he would permit at least 20 of the exiles to return.

If the planned handover of Bethlehem is implemented, it would be the third time that the city has been handed over to PA security control in recent years.