Palestinians land in Cyprus

NICOSIA – A group of 13 Palestinian militants arrived at Larnaca airport yesterday after leaving the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where they had been besieged by Israeli troops since April 2 with many other Palestinians. The men are to stay in Cyprus until arrangements are made for their transfer to other countries under an EU-US agreement brokered to defuse the situation in Bethlehem. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Cassoulides said that several European states, namely Spain, Italy and Greece, had expressed interest in taking the Palestinians and that the EU would decide on Monday where they would go. The Palestinian gunmen in the church were among 200 people who took refuge in the shrine when Israeli troops entered the town in a sweep for militants during a West Bank offensive that followed Palestinian suicide attacks. Under the agreement, the men were exiled from the West Bank after Israel called for them to be brought to trial in Israel or face deportation. On arrival early yesterday afternoon at Larnaca airport, which was under heavy guard, 12 of the men were taken by bus to the nearby Hotel Flamingo where they were greeted by the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Cyprus. Another man, who had been injured in the siege, was transferred from the British Royal Air Force transport plane to an ambulance. Greece «has accepted to accommodate some of the Palestinians on its territory,» Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis said on a visit to Belgrade. Cyprus had been in contact with Brussels and the Greek, British and US governments on the issue.

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