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Archive for Monday, May 20, 2002

Palestinian exiles’ destinations decided

May 20, 2002

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— The European Union has agreed on how to distribute 13 Palestinian militants exiled under a deal that ended Israel's siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

But one of those nations said the deal was not finalized, while an official from another was unaware of it.

Spain and Italy will each take three of the militants, Greece and Ireland will each take two, and Portugal and Belgium will each accept one, the Spanish ministry said. It said one would stay in Cyprus, which is not an EU member and is currently putting up the 13 men temporarily.

The ministry at first said Finland would take one of the Palestinians, but after a denial from the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Spain said the man would go to Belgium.

But Belgium said some details remained incomplete.

"In principle we are ready to take one, but we need guarantees on status and security," Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koen Vervaeke said in Brussels.

"Discussions are still going on with nothing confirmed. ... It's a little bit premature to say Belgium accepts to take one," Vervaeke told The Associated Press.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides said he had not heard that a militant would remain on the Mediterranean island. Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, did not say when the 12 men would leave Cyprus. Samir Abu Ghazaleh, the Palestinian envoy to Cyprus, told AP he does not expect them to leave before Tuesday.

Abu Ghazaleh also said he had received no official word on who would go to which country.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique closed the deal late Saturday after a series of telephone conversations with other EU officials. Miguel Angel Moratinos, EU special envoy for Middle East, also was involved in the negotiations.

The EU offered to take in the militants in a successful effort to defuse the 39-day standoff in Bethlehem, and the 13 were taken to Cyprus to await a decision on their fate.

The Spanish foreign ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the militants would be granted special permission to stay under the national laws of their host nations, with police surveillance. He said that they would not be allowed to travel to other EU nations.

EU diplomats had been working for four days to find a solution on the share out of the Palestinians and their legal status once they arrive.

Six EU nations Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain agreed last week to take the Palestinians, but the transfer was held up by negotiations over their dispersal and their legal status.

Officials said the breakthrough came when Greece agreed to take two militants and Cyprus one. Cyprus hopes to join the EU in 2004.

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