Homeless in Cypriot hotel, Palestinians wait to move on

LARNACA, Cyprus – Khalil Abdullah wonders if he’ll ever again ride his Harley-Davidson left behind in Ramallah before he was deported by Israel following a long standoff at the Church of the Nativity. His comrade-in-exile, Mohammed Said, said he doesn’t care about the news any more. These days, all he wants to listen to is music. Six days after arriving in Cyprus, the first stop on the way to their final destinations in six European nations, the 13 Palestinian militants, many of them in their early 20s, are getting a taste of life in exile – perhaps better than an Israeli prison, but too far from home. «Italy? I want to go back to Palestine, not Europe,» Said, 22, yelled to reporters from his balcony of the beachfront Flamingo Hotel, where he and the others have been confined until EU officials work out the details of their departure. Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain said they are ready to take the Palestinians, regarded by Israel as the most dangerous of those who’d holed up inside one of Christianity’s holiest sites for more than five weeks. They were expected to receive refugee status, which in Europe usually means a monthly stipend, shelter and clothing provisions and the possibility of family reunions. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, however, has suggested the men be granted temporary residency in the European countries that have agreed to take them, but not full asylum. Discussions in Brussels continued yesterday. At the hotel, a member of the militant Islamic group Hamas, Abdullah, had just woken up and was seen pacing nervously around the small room, a cigarette in his hands. «Are there any bikes to rent here?» he asked a reporter in Arabic, motioning with the hands as if he was riding. «I had a Harley-Davidson in Palestine. I want to ride it again. But I don’t know if it’s still there.» Sitting and smoking next to him, Said, wearing a trademark Palestinian scarf, or kaffiyeh, around his neck, flipped through radio stations on his short-wave. First came the BBC World Service, then Arabic music. «I’d rather listen to music than news,» he said. «Our fighting with Israelis is finished,» he said. «We’re now fighting with journalists. When we arrive in Europe, there’ll be more journalists. They’ll never leave us alone.» Said briefly recalled his days under Israeli sniper fire in the Bethlehem church, when the militants were joined by foreign peace activists who slipped by the Israeli guards to deliver food to the Palestinians. After the 39-day siege ended with a deal to deport the 13 to Europe and 26 others to the Gaza Strip, the activists were detained by Israeli police. «They’re in jail, and we’re free. That’s shameful,» he said. The Palestinians, confined to their rooms except during meal times, said they wanted to swim in the rooftop pool, which has been closed to visitors since their arrival here. «We don’t know if we’ll be allowed to. We’re waiting for the answer from the security,» Said said, disappearing behind the curtains. Attiki Odos find