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UC students in Church of Nativity siege deported from Israel

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 28, 2002

RIVERSIDE — A University of California, Riverside student, who had been detained by Israel after trying to provide humanitarian aid to armed Palestinians during a church siege in Bethlehem, was back in the United States on Monday, his father said. 

Nauman Zaidi was released Sunday from an Israeli prison and deported to New York along with UC Berkeley student Robert O’Neill, 21, who had joined the 26-year-old Zaidi in Bethlehem. 

“We are naturally very happy,” Zaidi’s father, Nasim Zaidi, said Monday. “We supported the action he took. We are really proud of him.” 

Zaidi and O’Neill were among 10 activists removed from the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank on May 10 as the standoff between armed Palestinians and Israeli soldiers ended after 39 days.  

Zaidi and O’Neill had entered the church a month after the siege started.  

The activists were carrying food to 150 Palestinian militants and civilians, including clerics, in the church. 

Zaidi and four other Americans had been detained in Massiyahu Prison while they fought the terms of their deportation, the U.S. State Department said earlier this month. 

University officials said Zaidi, a biology student, broke rules banning students studying overseas from traveling to the West Bank for safety reasons. Zaidi and O’Neill had been studying at UC’s Cairo program when they went to the church. They have since been dropped from the program. 

The students have not been expelled and only will need to fill out some forms to gain readmission to their schools, said a UC spokesman. 

Students at UC Riverside last week described Zaidi as a hero and demanded he be allowed back into school. The elder Zaidi said university officials told him “they would be more than happy to take him back.” 

Nasim Zaidi added that his son could return to Cairo to finish a few weeks of religious studies at the American University. He expected his son to return to the family’s Rancho Cucamonga home in late June.