Deal complete to send 13 exiled Palestinians to Europe

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

LARNACA, Cyprus -- The European Union finalized a deal Tuesday to accept 13 Palestinian militants involved in the siege of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. The men have been eating three meals a day and passing time watching satellite TV at a Cyprus beach hotel for the last two weeks.

Twelve are expected to fly today to six EU nations that have agreed to offer them a home for at least a year. Abdullah Daoud, the militant whom Israel considers the most dangerous, said he's looking forward to a new life and reuniting with his family in Europe.

Cyprus, a Mediterranean island state expected to join the EU by January 2004, had reluctantly given temporary refuge to the militants, who Israel has accused of being terrorists.

Under an EU deal given final approval Tuesday, Spain and Italy will each take three militants, Greece and Ireland will each take two, and Portugal and Belgium will each accept one. The 15-nation EU said one militant would remain in Cyprus until an EU country can be found to take him in.

The EU offered to take on the militants to end the 39-day standoff after Palestinian militants escaped Israeli troops by fleeing into the church. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the deal showed the EU "can play a worthwhile role" in the Middle East peace process.

An EU statement said the 12 would stay in their host nations for up to a year and would not be allowed to travel to other countries.

Speaking to Spanish radio station RAC 1, EU Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos said the 13 will be able to work or study. "They won't be detained, not at all. They will have freedom, although they will be under a certain control," he said without elaborating.

A Spanish military plane headed Tuesday to Cyprus to fly out the 12 today. Officials said the three Italian-bound Palestinians may leave aboard another jet.

Since May 10, the Palestinians have been living at the Flamingo Beach Hotel in the beach resort of Larnaca under the round-the-clock watch of Cypriot anti-terrorist police.

Three-star hotel

Cyprus has insisted that they were not under detention, but the militants have been confined to the three-star hotel.

Escorted by police, the Palestinians have been leaving their rooms on the hotel's top floor three times a day, making their way to a second-floor dining hall reserved for them to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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