EU discusses Palestinian exiles today

EU foreign ministers are meeting today in Brussels to hammer out the details of which countries will accept the 13 Palestinian militants who have been on Cyprus since Friday, when they were exiled from Bethlehem at the end of a 39-day Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity. Greece has said that it is willing to take in some of the men. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who had worked to help end the Bethlehem siege, will be at today’s meeting in Brussels. On Saturday, EU Middle East envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters at the Flamingo Hotel in Larnaca, where 12 of the 13 are being kept under tight security, that they would go into exile «as free men.» The 13th man is being treated in a local hospital for wounds sustained in the siege. The Cypriot government spokesman stressed that their stay on the island should be brief. «According to the arrangement… the 13 Palestinians we are playing host to temporarily are expected to leave Cyprus in the first days of this week, specifically Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest,» spokesman Michalis Papapetrou told the Cyprus News Agency. Israel considers the militants «dangerous terrorists,» but European officials, including Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, said that the men had not committed any crimes in Europe. They were sent into exile as part of a US- and EU-brokered deal, and arrived in Cyprus from Israel aboard a British military aircraft. Italy, Spain and Portugal are being discussed as likely destinations for some of them. According to a Palestinian diplomatic source quoted by the Agence France-Presse, the men prefer to be split up evenly and want to go to either Greece or Spain, rather than Italy and Portugal. Exiling them to the same destination has been ruled out for security reasons, the source said. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said on Friday that his country had a right under the deal made last week to seek the men’s extradition under certain circumstances, such as their being set free in an EU state that took them in. The Palestinian envoy in Cyprus, Samir Abu Gazaleh, said «We are very concerned about Peres’s comments.»